Apologies to any reader who is tired of reading about the Netherlands, I am aware that this is the third consecutive day that they have featured in the World Cup Calendar. In fact, today is the seventh feature of the Brazilian team, and the sixth appearance of the Dutch. There is a good reason for the high appearance totals for both these sides. Both are completely and utterly enthralling to watch. The teams play superb attacking football, their shirts stand out vividly on the pitch and the fans are completely mad. Both sides had coasted through the tournament in France with relative ease, the attacking nature of the teams being too strong for their opposition. Brazil faced the Netherlands in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome with the eyes of the world watching, expecting a footballing masterclass. Few fans were left disappointed by the quality.
The game started the way most Brazil games tended to start, with Ronaldo dazzling the defence with a bit of trickery before powering into the box. The Netherlands centre-halves were quick to the situation, sliding in to block the shot before it had a chance to trouble Edwin van der Sar in the Dutch nets. It was an early indication of things to come.
The Dutch were more than capable of attacking themselves, and soon had an attempt of their own. Boudewijn Zenden received a pass on the left flank. He fizzed a cross in first time, finding the head of AC Milan’s Patrick Kluivert. Kluivert outmuscled Aldair to reach the ball first, though his header rose over the bar and out for a goal kick.
Soon after and Kluivert had another opportunity to score, once again nodding his effort over the bar. Ronald de Boer dribbled inside from the right flank, making a pass which went through the legs of Rivaldo. The ball was then pinged into the middle of the box, with Kluivert once again outmuscling a defender, this time Junior Baiano, and twisting his neck to connect with the ball. The header never troubled the ‘keeper, but the Netherlands were showing that they were capable of causing Brazil a problem or two.
Minutes after the halftime break and Brazil had the lead. Rivaldo hit a long aerial pass into a gap between the Dutch defence. Ronaldo took a sublime touch before firing it between the outstretched legs of Edwin van der Sar. It was a breathtaking goal from a breathtaking team.
The Netherlands threw themselves at the game to try and equalise, creating two chances from corners. The first corner was met by the head of Patrick Kluivert, who headed the ball into space near the back post. The header was met by centre back Ronald de Boer, who slid in to try and hook the ball into the net. He should have buried it, but Claudio Taffarel made an excellent save to dent the defender. Ronaldo may have been a world class striker, but his defending was questionable as he allowed de Boer to run free. The next corner was met by the head of Patrick Kluivert once again. He jumped over the defender and fired his header wide of goal.
Ronaldo found himself on the end of a terrific through ball from Brazil. Cesar Sampaio dribbled through the middle of the field, hitting a perfectly weighted pass through the gap and into the path of Ronaldo. Ronaldo had too much time to think, eventually firing his shot into the body of van der Sar. Edgar Davids did rush back to help put Ronaldo off, and clipped the striker in the process. Ronaldo looked in pain as he hit the deck, a knock that may prove to be pivotal in the build up to the final of the tournament.
With the game coming towards the end, Brazil had a glorious chance to double their lead. Denilson had come off the bench and was running with intent down the wing towards the Dutch defence. He performed a series of stepovers before fizzing his cross in low onto the feet of Rivaldo. Amazingly, Rivaldo slid in, managing to stop the ball dead. He regained his composure and struck the ball whilst sitting on the ground, but his shot was weak and he hit it into van der Sars chest.
Patrick Kluivert had another glaring chance to equalise for his nation. Pierre van Hooijdonk played an inch-perfect pass to Kluivert who had beaten the offside trap. He hit the ball first time and saw his shot fly over the bar at a laughable height.
In the 87th minute, Ronald de Boer hit a cross from the right flank into the middle of the box. The football hit the head of Kluivert, and to the shock of everyone inside the Velodrome, he scored! It was a terrific bullet header which reminded everybody that he was actually a top class striker. Many had been calling for Guus Hiddink to replace the misfiring forward, but his decision was vindicated.
The Netherlands were shocked at the referees egregious decision to not award them a penalty in extra time. Aldair dragged Pierre van Hooijdonk to ground inside the penalty area, preventing him from reaching the cross. Rather than awarding a penalty, which would have given the Netherlands the opportunity to score a golden goal, the referee instead booked van Hooijdonk for simulation. It was an atrocious decision which would prove to be very costly for Hiddink’s side.
Brazil kicked it up a gear in extra time, with Ronaldo creating two dangerous chances. Firstly, he attempted an overhead kick which lacked power, but was on target. His exuberant attempt was cleared off the line. Later on in the half and he dribbled a long way, cutting inside on the edge of the box and unleashing a rasping shot towards goal. The heroics of van der Sar kept the score 1-1 as he pushed the ball wide. The final chance of the match came from Pierre van Hooijdonk. He hit a free kick on target but was easily stopped by Taffarel. The referee blew full time and the game went to penalties.
Brazil started their shootout well, Ronaldo hitting his penalty to the wrong side of the goalkeeper. Frank de Boer beat Taffarel with a powerful penalty, and Rivaldo put Brazil back in the lead. The Dutch equalised through Dennis Bergkamp and Emerson, fresh off the bench, put his up the middle. Philip Cocu looked visibly nervous, replacing the ball numerous times before hitting the shot. He fired low to the right and saw his shot saved. Dunga dispatched his penalty with ease, putting the pressure on Ronald de Boer. De Boer performed some stupid running, causing his penalty to be weak. Consequently, it was saved with ease by the Brazilian goalkeeper.
That was the game, 120 minutes of competitive action ended by a penalty shootout. It was a cruel blow for the Netherlands, especially due to their harsh penalty call, but Brazil certainly deserved their victory. They played with their usual confidence and swagger, creating some tremendous chances and showing the world that they were capable of reclaiming the World Cup. By eliminating the Netherlands, they had guaranteed themselves a final against the tournament hosts, France, five days later, a game that will be discussed in depth on July 12th. Yes, it is yet another game featuring Brazil, but with the style that Brazil adopt, that can only be a good thing.
Tomorrow’s game: July 8th. Brazil v Germany. 2014.