Netherlands vs. Brazil: 50-50 Challenge

ByJack Lang and Elko Born via ESPN logo
Sunday, July 13, 2014

Brazil's scarcely believable 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany wrecked their dreams of reaching the final, while Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal says a third-place playoff should be scrapped from the World Cup. Jack Lang (Brazil) and Elko Born (Netherlands) preview their teams' final match of the tournament -- and the warm-up act for Sunday's final.

World Cup history

JL: These sides have met four times in World Cups, winning two games apiece. The Oranje drew first blood in 1974, Johan Cruyff scoring in a 2-0 win for Rinus Michels' men. That defeat was avenged 20 years later when Brazil picked up a narrow victory on their way to the title in the United States. The Selecao then won a tense penalty shootout at France '98, and the Dutch dashed Brazil's hopes in 2010.

EB: The most famous meeting is probably the one Jack mentioned, in 1974. The Oranje's "Total Football" machine first presented itself to the world by beating the Brazil 2-0. Then there's the thrilling quarterfinal in 1994 -- won 3-2 by Brazil -- during which Bebeto famously took the art of celebrating to a new level with his "baby cradle" routine.

Finally, the cracking semifinal between the two countries in 1998 deserves a mention. The match ended 1-1 and in the penalty shootout that followed, two Dutch players missed their spot kick (Phillip Cocu and Ronald de Boer) -- not too different from this week's shootout against Argentina, which saw Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder miss.

Player to fear

JL: Julio Cesar and Felipe Melo shouldered most of the blame for that defeat in South Africa, but really, Brazil were undone by the brilliance of Wesley Sneijder. The playmaker was awarded both goals (although one was probably an own goal) and ran the show. Luiz Felipe Scolari will be well aware of the danger Sneijder poses, especially after seeing midfielders Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira have so much joy in the staggering semifinal defeat to Germany.

EB: Netherlands will probably fear the Brazilian collective most. Still embarrassed by their 7-1 loss against Germany and eager to put on a performance in front of the home crowd, Brazil might be more motivated than the Dutch, who have already shown what they're worth.

That being said, it's obvious Brazil have a host of imposing players. With defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong likely unavailable, the Oranje will have to find a way to deal with attacking midfielders such as Oscar and Bernard, who should not be given too much space in front of the Netherlands' tired defence.

Key battle

JL: Arjen Robben vs. Brazil's full-backs. The winger was unable to make his mark against Argentina but has had a superb World Cup all told. Given a touch more freedom in the 5-3-2 system adopted by van Gaal, he pops up on both flanks, stretching the play and darting in toward the goal. If the defensive frailties that led to Tuesday's collapse reappear, he could have plenty of joy.

EB: It's difficult to predict who van Gaal will pick for his first XI. Will he allow players like Robin van Persie and Robben their World Cup 2014 swan song, or will he let younger players like Jordy Clasie and Memphis Depay have their go? In any case, the Netherlands' defensive line has largely been dependent on Ron Vlaar's solid performances. Without Vlaar, the Oranje's defence might seem much weaker. If he plays, though, Brazil's attackers will have a problem on their hands, and they'll need to utilise all of their creativity to get past "Concrete Ron."

Summary of World Cup

JL: The World Cup was always going to be a seven-game grind for Brazil, but the final chapter is not the one they were hoping for. Their shortcomings, which had been obscured by the swirl of expectation, excitement and emotion, were savagely exposed by Germany at the Mineirao, resulting in their most damaging defeat since 1950 -- possibly ever. With the inquest already underway, this is a match that the Selecao would happily forfeit if they could.

EB: Ahead of the tournament, expectations were low. In the first group match, however, the Oranje thrashed Spain 5-1 and entered a dream-like state that would last until the semifinal against Argentina.

Eventually they ran out of fortune but the whole country can look back at the tournament and feel proud. The players as well as the manager rose above themselves to provide the audience with some classic moments, such as van Persie's "salmon dive" wonder goal against Spain, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's last-minute match-winning penalty against Mexico, and van Gaal's audacious decision to substitute first-choice goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for Tim Krul in the dying seconds of extra time against Costa Rica. Winning the World Cup was slightly too much to ask, but it's been a blast nonetheless.


JL: Netherlands 1, Brazil 0. The optimists will be hoping that Brazil come out fighting, earning some semblance of consolation after the Mineirazo. But the Netherlands could easily heap more misery on a set of players who will be desperate for the ordeal to end.

EB: Brazil will score first but the Netherlands will make a comeback. Expect the Dutch to win 2-1.