Just who can stop Brazil at this World Cup? It’s a question that has troubled footballing minds for well over 50 years now, but not one that can be readily answered. In keeping with their traditions as the winners of the competition more times than anyone else, this 2010 vintage has the air of a team that can win it any way it wishes. Defensively or on the attack, the choice is very much theirs and how intriguing it will be to see if they can pull it off.
So far in this tournament these two faces of the men in yellow have been evident in strong attacking displays to see off Ivory Coast and Chile, while the games against Korea DPR and Portugal relied on steel and discipline to get over the line. Either way, the Brazilians looked comfortable with both approaches even if neutrals crave for beautiful football – regardless of the circumstances. In the most recent outing against Chile, the Chileans remained game throughout before accepting that it was beyond their capabilities to break their opponents down.
While it is understandably the case that supporters desire goals and spectacle, those in the know are aware that it is only on a solid defensive base that anything can be achieved. The 1982 and 86 Brazilian teams were spectacular but went home early on both occasions. It was only in 1994, when the wait for a fourth crown was finally ended under Carlos Alberto Parreira that the penny dropped. Current coach Carlos Dunga played in that side which could rely on a terrific backline made up of Jorginho, Marcio Santos, Aldair and Leonardo. The 2010 version is equally good, as individuals and as a unit, so that opponents are left scratching their heads figuring out ways to score enough goals to win the match. On the evidence of the competition so far, only Argentina look to have the necessary fire- power to trouble the Selecao, but would attacking at will expose Diego Maradona’s side to the deadly counter-attack Brazil have perfected under Dunga? Questions, questions.
Another side who may potentially pose a threat is quarter-final opponents the Netherlands. In Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder, Coach Bert Van Marwijk has a world-class trio of attacking players that would be welcome in all international set-ups.
In addition, Dirk Kuyt, Rafael Van der Vaart and the exciting prospect Elijero Elia provide quality support for the Oranje. In the past, in particular the European Championships of 2000 and 2008, the Dutch have blown away the opposition in the early stages, only to blow themselves out when it really matters. This time however, their approach has matched that of the Brazilians, doing enough and moving onto the next challenge, and like the Brazilians, angering purists at home.
Friday’s match will be the fourth meeting between these two countries at a World Cup and they have some way to go to live up to the incredible trilogy that has gone before. Starting with a Johan Cruyff-inspired 2-0 win in West Germany in 1974 to Branco’s amazing free-kick to seal a 3-2 quarter-final win in Dallas in 1994 and topped off with Ronaldo versus Frank De Boer and Jaap Stam in the 1998 semi-final, as Brazil claimed a penalty-shoot out win. Make no mistake, meetings between these two are classics. If one had to pick a winner, then returning to the above theme about defensive strength, Brazil start as favourites given their defensive solidity against Dutch uncertainty at times, although full-back Gregory Van Der Wiel looks a star in the making. Added spice has been provided by Cruyff labelling the Brazilians, ‘bores’ but in truth it’s nothing Dunga has not heard before.
More pressing for the coach is the fitness of Felipe Melo, with Elano already ruled out with a leg injury. The Juventus midfielder missed the win over Chile through injury and his replacement Ramires, whose fine run led to Brazil’s third goal, is suspended. Wolfsburg’s Josue is likely to come in should Melo not make it, while Dani Alves will continue in the absence of Elano. Interestingly, the Barcelona man played infield rather than as a wide-man against Chile and was all the better for it, with his energy giving Brazil an added dimension.
With the pressure growing by the day Dunga could be forgiven for feeling the tension, but he remains phlegmatic to the end, saying “the quality of our players allows me to be calm”. A cool head if ever there was one.