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Tomorrow starts the quarter final stage of World Cup 2010. The tournament have served up their fair share of surprises but the last 8 line up looks to be as close to early predictions as possible. Past winners Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Uruguay are still in the mix. While perennial underachievers Holland and Spain are also in. The only 2 countries which have exceeded expectations are Paraguay and Ghana. There are 2 plum ties for the next round of fixtures; Argentina versus Germany will meet on Saturday but first there is the small matter of Holland versus Brazil on Friday.

This would not be the first meeting between these two footballing powerhouse in the world’s biggest tournament. The last 2 encounters that springs to mind in the one in USA’94 and France’98. Both matches were spectacular in their own rights. The match in 1994 completed the first half without any goals but ended the second with 5 goals. Brazil won the thriller by scoring three of those goals. Dennis Bergkamp scored one for Holland while current assistant coach, Frank De Boer was one of the substitutes.

Both played in the other game in 1998 in which Holland lost on penalties in the semifinal match. It may have finished level after normal playing time but this was one gripping match. The prodigious Ronaldo was a thorn right from the beginning and it was his pace that got him clear of the last defender to put Brazil ahead just after half time. Patrick Kluivert scored in the 87th minute to add bring the game into extra time. Frank’s brother, Ronald missed the 4th penalty for Holland and Brazil were through to the final.

For the 2010 edition, Holland has gone quietly about their work and judging from the scores, it is easy for one to think that they’ve struggle to get this far. Upon further analysis, this is not the reality. They have coasted through their games and have done enough just to get the wins. This group under Bert Van Marwijk are patient in their play and does not look to be easily flustered, even though their opponent might be putting 10 men behind the ball.

I cannot help but feel that their imperious form in the group games in 2008’s European Championship was their downfall. Those swashbuckling games and the masterful attacking quality that they shown against Italy and France put paid to their hopes of winning the tournament. Holland made their opponent sit up and take notice of their strengths. This time around, Van Marwijk has done well in making his squad realise that they need to be solid to win tournaments.

The defensive wall is well supported by the two holding midfielders in Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong. Both are tigerish in their tackling and work their socks off to protect the backlines. They rarely venture forward and I’ll be very surprise to see them change that tomorrow against the attacking might of Brazil. Scoring will be left to just 3 players and yes, that is excluding Dirk Kuyt. The Liverpool man is more than a willing runner and does put in his fair shift but he should not be the one to unlock a defence marshal by half of Inter Milan’s Champions League winning side. Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben will be tasked with that duty and I have a feeling this will be the game that they lived up to their potential.

That being said, Brazil are no slouch themselves. However, so far, they have not yet face an opponent with the strength of Holland. Portugal were the closest but on that particular night, the Iberian side showed no intention of actually wanting to win the game and instead just depended on one Cristiano Ronaldo to provide the magic. That allowed the likes of Felipe Melo and Julio Baptista to venture forward without much worry. Against Holland, they may have to choose wisely when to bomb forward.

Whatever it is, this is heck of a match to look forward to. Both sides have the talent and capability to play beautiful attacking football and this could very well end up being a better game than the final. Tension are building up and if Spain were able to eliminate their underachiever tag, this may well be an Oranje turn.

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