A dazzling World Cup.
It had poor referee calls (multiple), high calamity (Felipe Melo’s “Who me?” stomp job, Robert Green’s sweeping lack of success), new stars emerge on the global stage (Chicarito, Forlan, Valdez for Paraguay), and now the World Cup will have a first time winner.
And that winner will be the Netherlands…if the following things happen.
TSG gave you a look yesterday at why Spain will win. Now the converse.
Here’s how the Oranje make Amsterdam sky high:
• “You’re not coming down the middle, even to create opportunities on the flanks”
Mark Van Bommel had thireen–13!–fouls without getting a yellow card until getting shown the caution in the waning moments of Tuesday’s semifinal match-up. A nasty man in the middle, especially when the ref is off chaperoning others on the pitch.
Going up against cohort Nigel De Jong is like taking your chances with a closer who’s known to bean a few guys–some weird mix of Brandon Morrow, Mitch Williams and Ricky Vaugn rolled into one.
DeJong and Van Bommel flat-out make you pay, painfully, for waltzing into their middle of the field–and together they are the primary key to unlocking the World Cup trophy for the Dutch.
Spain–contrary to erroneous reports–has had troubles actually finding opportunities down the middle. Teams–Switzerland, Paraguay–stuffed the middle and accepted the lesser of the evils, content to make Spain beat them with a harder shot from somewhere between 135 to 180 degrees.
Against Germany, Spain dropped Fernando Torres and employed a 5-man midfield. They grouped three to work centrally who then flipped a pass out wide where there were one-on-one opportunities. This strategy worked “better” for Spain. They didn’t score this way, but they threw some diagonal over-the-top balls into the box that neared pay dirt and found–Pedro mostly–open on the wing to break down Germany.
Going to be just a hell of a battle in Holland’s defensive central midfield.
The Netherlands prevail here if they make Xavi, foremostly, but also Xabi Alonso and Serge Busquets less inclined to push the action (to make runs, to work the ball, to move off the ball) in the center of the Dutch defensive third. We know that both DeJong and Van Bommel will try to do that with physical, and questionable, tackles.
Can the DeJong-Van Bommel blender avoid citations and can Spain’s center guys withstand the pain?
Note: If I’m the Netherlands, I’m putting DeJong on Xavi exclusively–let Sneijder drop a to little help out Van Bommel more.
I’m not sure why most teams don’t the “box-and-one” strategy from basketball. Sure, teams get on Xavi, but they pass the player in a zonal marking strategy. How about assigning DeJong to his hip and running bump-and-run coverage and keeping Xavi possession less, like denying Pao Gasal reception on the block.
If it’s not working, Holland could always drop the strategy and at least there is a little bit of wear on him.
• Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, and Eljero Elia (who I think will and should get off the bench in this one) can make Spain pay down the flanks.
While it took just one Carlos Puyol in the box that took one header to dismantle the German machine, it was the ninety minutes of Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevilla coming up the flanks that further stretched the German defense.
Spain–not oddly–look like Barcelona in the back. Both Puyol and Pique, who had phenomenal semi-final games, played very high allowing Spain’s wide fullbacks to help maintain pressure and possession up the pitch.
Now, here’s the thing, both Kuyt and Robben will be charged with being active two-way players however neither are outright speedsters down the flanks. In this game, they’ll have to be very heady with those runs, both to push back Spain, but also to create some viable scoring options.
This is where I think Elia as well–possibly with Kuyt moving centrally in the 2nd half in some capacity–can help. He is fast and if Sergio Ramos starts feeling his “I want to be the midfielder I am” oats, Elia is that guy to make him, and Spain, pay.
However, make no mistake, Arjen Robben’s vigor and proficiency in attack will be a critical tactical key, but, perhaps more importantly, a source of inspiration to the Dutch who will need to gain confidence through Robben’s success.
Note: With Howard Webb now officiating this game, Robben is going to have to cut out his dive routines. Ask Daniel DeRossi who pleaded continually with Webb against Slovakia….in utter vain.
• Steckelenburg equals Casillas.
Since Iker Casillas first match gaffe, the Real Madrid keeper has been Golden Gloves-steady.
Meanwhile, Maarten Steckelenburg who likely has the save of the tournament (against Kaka in the 1st half against Brazil in the quarters) let in a soft one and was a little unsure of himself against Uruguay.
The Ajax keeper–who’s been dropped at twice in his club career for poor performance–needs to shake off the one average affair against Uruguay and continue with his dominant tourney form.
• Press up the pitch… (I should have made this bullet the 1st one.)
While Paraguay and Germany both lost 1-0 to Iniesta and company, the case could be made that Paraguay was far more threatening in their win.
For all that “good stuff” you’ve read about Spain being methodical, patient and sticking to their plan against Germany….for all the tweaks–centrally on attack as I mentioned above–that you’ve heard about Spain…it’s hard to suggest that German strategy for Spain was, in fact, the right one.
What Germany should have done is mimic Paraguay’s pressure up the pitch, presenting opportunities to win the ball from players not named Xavi and Iniesta or at least doing so with the those players under duress–alas the Germans didn’t have the necessary formation and horses up front in Klose and Podolski to really make it work.
The press strategy was Paraguay’s play and, with the exception of some poor finishing and a quality Spanish finiah by Villa, the quarterfinal match was decidedly more even than the semi for La Furia Roja.
Despite being in a 1-0 hole to Brazil, something that the Dutch did exceedingly well was initiate a similar half-press against the Brazilians with the triumvirate of Robin Van Persie, Robben and Kuyt picking up the play about 25 yards out from Julio Cesar.
The Dutch didn’t control the run of play–in fact they looked downright horrible for most of the half–but they also didn’t allow Brazil to merely knock around possession. They didn’t allow Brazil to press them on the turnover.
….and for the Dutch, this strategy will limit Spain’s probing and wearing down which Germany experienced firsthand.
The Netherlands will have to deal with a few Alonso long balls over the top–to Pedro on the flank or David Villa in space–and that’s worth risk.
In reviewing the Netherlands in the World Cup, Bruce Arena would be proud. Each player has a specific job and each player executes it. Robin Van Persie mans the pivot. Arjen Robben is tasked to go one-on-one. Kuyt fills the cracks. DeJong Van Bommel cause havoc and disruption.
Each of these players has accepted and excelled in their role.
This soccer joie de vivre is nowhere more evident than in winger Dirk Kuyt who has had countless breakaway opportunities and has continually issued a pass before a shot. That’s his job.
As I wrote in my Brazil-Holland preview, the Oranje attackers have a toolkit’s worth of ways to assemble an attack. That’s going to be important to probing the Spain defense. Robin Van Persie, specifically, is due for a game where he can receive and turn on some central defenders.
We’ve discussed the midfield already. Ahead of Van Bommel and DeJong is Sneijder the conductor of the attack. Here’s an interesting stat on Sneijder–he’s got the most shots for the Netherlands 2010 usually by trailing the attackers. In this one, I’m not sure he gets those Johnny-come-late opportunities–if he does they’ll likelycome on Alonso’s side as Busquets have been playing some serious defensive midfield.
In the back the Netherlands are pedestrian by World Cup Finals standards, but they play well as a team. Dynamic and 22-year-old Gregory Van Der Weil mans the right flank, while retiring bomber Gio Van Bronkhort mans the left. Van Bronkhort is going to have his hands full with a speedy Pedro.
In the center is Jay DeMerit-clone Johnny Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen, who returned for the Uruguay game. Hard to call the pair underrated. That said they’re steady and no their limitations.
Beyond the schematic above, the Dutch need to keep the steady-as-she-goes approach that have led them to the final.
If they can have the mindset that they will not submit to Spain controlling the rhythm and run-of-play like Germany did and instead make the game a more open and less timid affair, they become the favorites. It’s that simple.