Monday, June 28, 2010
The most lopsided matchup of the last 16 World Cup matches was supposed to be an opportunity for the Netherlands to flex their footballing muscle and stamp their class on a low-key but effective campaign so far. Unfortunately, the Oranjemen again did just enough rather than dominate a match. Conversely, after falling behind to an Arjen Robben fine strike, Slovakia looked the better side as the Dutch sat back, defend and counter attacked with pace and power.
This is not a Dutch side that I enjoy watching but it is a truly effective one. Van der Vaart was the player sacrificed to make way for the fully recovered Robben. Risking the Dutch's most creative player in a crucial elimination match looked to be the right choice as Robben hit a sizzling near post strike to beat Jan Mucha in goal. Arjen Robben's pace and trickery are the most potent Dutch weapon and for him to be starting is a confidence booster for the Netherlands.
The Netherlands were happy to concede possession to the Slovaks and Marek Hamsik was busying himself in midfield linking up play, promising much but delivering little. The coach's son, Vladimir Weiss was reinstated to the first team and the Slovak's answer to Robben had the better of the early exchanges. He faded in the later stages of the match as his influence on the game also dwindled.
The Dutch were always dangerous on the break, especially with Sneijder spraying passes to the speedy Robben and Van Persie. Without Van der Vaart, Sneijder made this Dutch team his own and played to the best of his abilities. He was rewarded when the selfless Kuyt laid on a goal for Sneijder the Smurf. Just like Lampard and Gerrard, the tandem of Sneijder and VDV rarely brings out the best in each other. Van Marwijk might have to decide quickly that only one of these two creative geniuses will play for the benefit of team balance.
After an uneventful first half (apart from the goal), Slovakia decided to take the game to Netherlands in the second. Robert Vittek drew a magnificient save from Stekelenburg. When needed, the Dutch keeper produced fine saves to deny The Repre especially in this match. Vittek did get the goal he coveted to become Slovakia's all-time record goalscorer. Just rewards for the big man as he has been Slovakia's leading light in South Africa.
Netherlands are looking very much more defensive than in previous World Cups. This could suit the way the Dutch players play with their clubs, hence the comfort and familiarity with a 4-2-3-1 system. So far, the Oranjemen have not played anything close to their best form but are in the last 8. They will need to hit top form when Brazil comes along. Anything less would mean an immediate flight home.
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