It all started so well. Both for me and Brazil. Woke up and was out the door in plenty of time. No traffic getting downtown. Parking spot right outside the Library Square Pub (free street parking before 9am!). Meet up with friend in plenty of time to get a decent seat with a good view of the screen.
As for Brazil, they had similar good fortune. They came out flying and were unfortunate to have a goal called back for offside on ten minutes. Still buzzing they soon got on the board. Now then, how they were able to play a ball from halfway through the heart of the Dutch defense to Robinho is ludicrous. The gap they played into was wider than Maradona. The goal was due though and Brazil looked like they had Holland’s number and it was going to be a bad day to be in Orange.
The turning point came soon after I emailed another friend who bailed on the early breakfast and said he was “Out.”.
“Out like Holland? Brazil putting on a clinic.” was my reply. You generally regret those hasty emails.
A performance like that in past years was usually enough to put the Dutch around the bend and turn the half time dressing room talk into a full melee. An early second half goal and most would’ve rightfully expected the orange tent to fully fold amid intra-squad squabbling.
Brazil brought the pace of the game down and seemed content to let Holland swing for the fences from afar safe in the knowledge that even Robben and Sneidjer would have to connect perfectly to beat a keeper of Cesar’s pedigree.
Then it happened. And this is why you can try to reduce soccer down to a series of statistics and chalkboard analytics but the human component, the mental/psychological component can go from a trickle to flash flood on a moment’s notice.
I’d already had a big moan at the ridiculous Dutch trick corner where Robben touched it into play, pretended he hadn’t and was leaving it for another Dutch player and had it all fall apart when Brazil picked up on it and went over and took possession. That’s been done before and once there’s an awareness of it, it is not going to work. My moan was more to the tune of: every corner should be swung into the danger area. Ban short corners. You are being given a dead ball and the ability to bring as many players into the box as you want with timed, planned runs. Why would you not stick it in the mix? Never mind that you’re playing Brazil and you’re down one-buzz. Put the ball to where it just needs a touch, a re-direction, an errant shin, an overzealous keeper, an unintentional flick-on from a defender….
What happened of course was just that last bit. Sneidjer finally whipped in a testing ball that Cesar came for, a touch late, collided with his centre back and the result was an own goal.
Bigger than the goal though was the effect it had on both teams. Brazil never recovered and Holland never looked back. The Brazilians now had to deal with the heaviest of foes: doubt. Giving up an 89th minute goal to North Korea or the 3-1 goal to Ivory Coast with ten to play is not as unnerving as conceding to the Dutch to tie the game early in the second half.
Now it was the blue tent that was in danger of folding…
The second Dutch goal was a bit of a pet peeve of mine. If you’re not going to fill the near post space with a defender on corner kicks you are inviting the driven ball to the near post for a flick. Which is of course what the Dutch played perfectly. Now, if you’re going to invite that ball, the player marking the near post runner has got to be aware that he has to overplay the attacker going for the flick. You cannot allow that flick but they did.
Kuyt to Sneidjer and it’s redirected into the back of the goal. While the British commentator (huge fan of British commentary but several times the comments have been ridiculous at this World Cup) is bemoaning the marking on Sneidjer, “Where is the Brazilian defense.” That’s not the problem. It’s ridiculous to expect Sneidjer to be stopped from scoring at that point. The defending has to happen before the flick. No one knows where the flick is going and there is no time to react once you do know. It’s done. Deny the flick. Also, as John Collins rightly pointed out after the game on CBC, the corner itself was conceded far too easily. Juan, I believe, could just as easily put it out for a throw but instead gives the Dutch the opportunity to flight one into where goals are scored from.
So two dangerous balls into the box and the Dutch have two goals out of them and Brazil have fallen to pieces. Their frustration defined by Melo’s red card. A red card that seemed rooted in frustration after enduring a combination of Robben’s runs and Robben’s dives. After seeing Robben on the ground one too many times, he studs him in clear view of the ref. He’s off and it’s gotten just that much more unlikely for Brazil to come back.
Brazil pressed but never had a golden chance. Dunga’s functional, Brazil-lite squad that went into the tournament as favourites went out showing little in the way of resolve and determination when down a goal. For all Robibho’s mad man histrionics, he didn’t back it up with constructive dangerous play when it was most needed in the last twenty minutes.
Dunga will be castigated for many things but most acutely the decision to take off top scorer Fabiano and replace him with relatively unproven Nilmar. I thought for sure Julio “the Beast” Baptista would come on for the last 20 but Dunga kept him on the bench. Fabiano can score the mucky, ugly goal or the breath-taking technician goal and while he was off-form most of the game, I think you still have to assume that when the chance comes he’s the one who will take it.
Safe to say Dunga is gone as coach of the Brazil. For Holland, they have earned the right to a relatively easy semi-final against the winner of the upcoming Uruguay v Ghana quarter final.
So analysis in a nutshell? Get the ball in the box and have numbers in there to battle for it and force defenders into quick decisions or second-guessing themselves. That’s the root of most defensive errors and to have defensive errors occur at the point where you’ve just whipped a ball into the top of the six yard box is a great attacking opportunity.