This has been a World Cup of expectations. Major favourites not living upto them, and nations who nobody gave a chance – and I’m not going to pretend I thought Costa Rica would get a point beforehand, but more on that later – but the only nation that has deifed those expectations more than the Costa Ricans may be the Dutch and Louis Van Gaal’s Holland side have thrust themselves into tournament contention with their performances so far.
Many, myself included, had doubts over the Dutch against reigning champions Spain and Chile but they put those fears aside in style with two fantastic performances that showcased remarkable versatility. Against the Spanish they played a high line, opening them up to swift Spanish passing that eventually bought La Roja the lead and threatened to make it 2-0 in their favour – and how different the game would have been if that had been the case – but they harassed their midfield from kickoff to full time and their continued winning the ball back in high positions set up a multitude of attacking opportunities that Robben and Van Persie – their two standout players of the tournament – took with aplomb as they tore apart the World Champions in a stunning dethroning.
Their game against Chile showed a different side but also an important change in thinking with Van Gaal employing a 5-3-2 and successfully strangling the Chilean attack before Leroy Fer took advantage of some slick marking at a set piece and Arjen Robben sent Leroy Fer on his way to finish the job.
Van Gaal’s selection today mirrors that setup, which means that Miguel Herrera, who has taken the tournament by storm with his passion from the touchline, has his fiercest tactical test yet. Mexico have been the tournaments’ most solid rearguard, letting in just one goal, and that when their crunch clash against Mexico was over as a contest. Their frustration of Brazil would have been a fine tactical viewpoint for them to use for today, but it remains to be seen who takes the imitative today in a game that may be the opposite of the fierce pressing contest we sw between Brazil and Chile.
Against Cameroon their natural superiority shone through, and against Mexico after keeping the game very tight until half time, they took advantage of the Europeans’ desperation to get forward – helped immensely by the fact that only a win took them through – by cutting them to pieces on the counter attack. On paper the back 5 has plenty of players that can be gotten at, but it remains to be seen if they get the natural gaps that occurred then and also if they have the defensive dcilpine to keep Holland’s natural pace out wide under wraps.
One senses that’s not a question to be confident in answering, but the loss of Jose Juan Vazuqez is such a brutal one for them to deal with and they face a different challenge to the one Brazil presented. The conditions are an advantage for them – this will be in the Fortazelan heat at lunchtime – but whoever wins, it’s likely to be a tight one. Take a one goal winning margin for the Dutch, and under 2.5 goals – or a one goal winning margin for either side while we’re at it.
1 pt Holland to win by one goal (3/1 general)
1 pt either side to win by one goal (17/20 Betway)
1 pt Under 2.5 goals (8/11 general)