Holland-Brazil: the best team in the tournament against the team that might think they are the best
Brazil have been the most consistent and balanced team in the tournament. They showed their stoic patience in the first twenty minutes of the Chile match before unleashing well-timed and precise waves of yellow onslaughts, and in the end strolled to a 3-0 victory. This is probably the approach they will take against the Dutch; let Holland keep possession and strike with venom when given the chance.
Holland haven’t really been tested in the tournament yet. There are echoes of EURO 2008 when they all but though they had won the tournament after the group stage, only to be destroyed by the Russians in the second round. However, this is a far more cautious Dutch side who have tried to learn from their past mistakes. Therefore, Holland will do well to keep numbers at the back and not get all gung-ho like the Chileans did, even if they do think they are the best in the world.
Verdict: Brazil will edge a victory, but the Dutch will give them a run for their money.
Smokin’ hot: Luis Fabiano
Unsung hero: Michel Bastos
Tactical detail: Dirk Kuyt’s defensive role. How deep will he track back to try to cancel out Maicon and aid van Bronckhorst with Dani Alves when Holland are without possession, and when doing this, how will he be able to contribute to the Dutch attacks.
Uruguay-Ghana: defensive steel vs organisation and directness
Uruguay go into the quarterfinal as slight favourites, even if the whole of Africa is backing the Black Stars. Ghana’s victory over the US was largely due to Ghana’s defensive organisation and directness in midfield. The Americans couldn’t contain Ghana’s onrush (and especially Kevin-Prince Boateng) but Uruguay, with the excellent pairing of Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalo patrolling the centre of the park, will not be daunted by a hard-fought midfield contest. Also, Uruguay’s defence (providing that Diego Godin is fit) looks more than capable to stifle Ghana’s straightforward attacking approach.
If Uruguay rely on their strengths of steely defending and quick attacking through Diego Forlan, and do not concede the game to their opponents as willingly as they did against South Korea, they should be able to proceed to the semi-final.
Verdict: Uruguay win on penalties.
Smokin’ hot: Luis Suarez
Unsung hero: Diego Perez
Tactical detail: Will Uruguay opt for an active approach and press higher up the field (which they should) or will they go for a more cautious strategy and defend deeper and try to soak up the pressure. If the choice is the latter, which they did in the second half against South Korea unsuccessfully (even if they managed to score in the end), it will be interesting to see how they’ll solve the problem of making their attacking transitions more fluid in deep midfield positions.
Argentina-Germany: a replay from 2006, this time the Germans won’t need penalties to reach the semi-final
A scintillating fixture between two of the best attacking and most entertaining sides in the tournament. However, one thing separates the two teams. While Diego Maradona perhaps relies more on the exquisite skill of the individuals, Joachim Low makes the team system the biggest virtue of both their attacking and defending. And this will be the significant difference between the teams. Germany are more balanced as a team and more versatile in terms of their attacking combinations. Argentina’s defence has not really been tested yet and they would really do with a fit Walter Samuel. The German defence, however, has been excellent (Arne Friedrich for one should get much more plaudits for his almost impeccable performances) but will need extra support from the midfielders and full-backs if they are to stop the quicksilvery Argentinian attackers.
Lionel Messi will be in the limelight once again, and has to produce the superb game everyone’s been waiting for if Argentina are to go through, but Mezut Özil is the player to watch here. Even when without the ball, the 21-year-old Werder Bremen playmaker is a threat due to his excellent movement and tactical understanding.
Verdict: A narrow victory for the Germans.
Smokin’ hot: Mesut Özil
Unsung hero: Sami Khedira
Tactical detail: Özil’s movement in German attacking transitions. Because German midfielders need to concentrate more on their defensive duties and play deep in their own half at times, the movement of Özil becomes even more important when Germany get the ball, even if the ball is not played directly to him.
Paraguay-Spain: all too easy for Spain
Spain are yet to peak, and do not need to do so in this fixture. Paraguay defeated Japan on penalties in one of the most boring matches in the tournament but showed no qualities that would suggest they are capable of beating the European champions. Sure, Paraguay have conceded only a single goal (a penalty) so far, but they haven’t yet come against a side that could throw a decent attack at them and keep them on the back foot.
Good news for Spain, they just might have found their best formation in the second half against Portugal when Fernando Llorente replaced Fernando Torres. Torres has been largely disappointing and might have to make way for the 25-year-old Atletic Bilbao striker.
Verdict: A comfortable win for Spain, though the goals might not come until the second half.
Smokin’ hot: David Villa
Unsung hero: Xabi Alonso
Tactical detail: If Llorente replaces Torres in attack, Spain will have a more traditional centre-forward as a target in the attacking area. In this case Spain can play with more width (with Villa and Andreas Iniesta or Jesus Navas/ David Silva playing wide) which will stretch Paraguay’s defensive shape. This will then create more room for the central midfielders to roam and to deliver killer passes and make runs at the defence.