Tuesday, June 29, 2010
World Cup 2010 Games 53 & 54
The Netherlands 2, Slovakia 1
Brazil 3, Chile 0
One doesn't make oneself look smarter than everyone else by picking Brazil, which is the favorite of any world cup until it loses. The experts have been volleying back and forth, embracing Germany after their first big win against Australia, warming up to Argentina after they flattened a weak group, falling in love with Portugal after they poured in six goals in a half against a North Korea team that held Brazil to within 2-1, and falling back in love with Spain after they overcame their goose egg against Switzerland to win their group. (For the latter, there is something to be said for getting your bad game out of the way early in the tournament.)
Even so, Brazil is ranked #1 for a reason. The outcome against Chile was never really in doubt, but two moments impressed me. In the 70th minute, with Brazil up 3-0, the team pressed forward and Kaka got an unmarked strike just over the top of the box. He sailed the shot high, and as the camera panned back on him, you could see him chastising himself for not doing better. In most games with a 3-0 score, the leading team feels carte blanche to try to pad the stat sheet, but each opportunity here is an opportunity to practice and prepare for the key moments.
Perhaps more telling was a moment four minutes later. Brazil had one a corner kick that was headed out of the box starting a counter attack moving the other way. The Brazilian player who did the corner kick literally sprinted back on defense, marking the Chilean with possession, and slowing the break to give the defense time to get back and set up. A fifty yard sprint in the 75th minute with a 3-0 lead? It's customary to think the best teams just coast by on superior natural talent, but they often work just as hard or harder than those trying to overtake them.
The Dutch cruise along, also winning their fourth game with no draws and setting up a quarterfinal showdown of #1 vs. #4. Not as flashy in the build up as Brazil, the Dutch still have some nifty finishers and they are good enough with possession that their defense minimizes the chances the opponents get. At this level, that's what you do...minimize the number of opportunities. Still, Brazil will create a few opportunities on skill, and they will finish. The question, then, is whether or not the Dutch can capitalize on their opportunities. If they do, it will be a close match.