(RESULTS: Netherlands 2 -1 Slovakia, Brazil 3-0 Chile)
Team of the day – Brazil
The Samba boys displayed an exhilarating brand of football to hand their South American opponents a crushing defeat, reviving the supposedly forgotten art of Joga Bonito. The diamond formation worked wonders for Dunga’s men, with the Chile midfielders being contained by the dominant Brazil midfield. The 1994 World Cup winning coach showed football fans that Brazil need not always play defensively, but only when the occasion demanded it. Fabiano’s and Robinho’s goals were reminiscent of Germany’s last two goals against England, and also proved that pace can be a very effective weapon in the modern game. Gilberto did an admirable job shielding the back four, which allowed Kaka and Ramires to create havoc among the opposition defense, thereby creating goal scoring opportunities for the two strikers. Although Chile tried hard to open their goal account, the Samba magic doused out the Red Hot Chile Peppers; Dunga seems to have picked a balanced world class side, and Brazil have a very good chance to prove his faith in their next encounter against an equally talented Netherlands side.
Goal of the day – Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
The Flying Dutchman was at the heart of Netherlands’ creative playmaking, and he tormented the Slovakian defense on the right wing with his dribbling and ball possession capabilities. It was no surprise that the Bayern Munchen winger opened Netherlands’ account. He received an excellent long pass from Sneijder on the counter, advanced towards the Slovak box, and sidestepped a couple of defenders before drilling in a low shot just inside the far right post, a trademark Robben goal stamped with class and quality.
Miroslav Stoch received the ball from his teammate on the left wing, evaded two defenders as he cut into the Dutch box, and powered the ball towards the roof of the net, but the Ajax shot stopper effected a brilliant save to send the ball over the post. From the resulting corner, an exchange of passes by the Slovaks saw the ball land at Vittek’s feet. The latter, Slovakia’s hero against Italy, unleashed a ferocious shot within Holland’s box after beating the Oranje offside trap, but Stekelburg once again denied a real goal scoring opportunity for the opposition.
Opportunists of the day – Netherlands
The Oranje dominated the match throughout, but were unable to score freely like Argentina or Germany, with the first goal coming via Robben’s brilliance. With the Slovaks still in the hunt for an equalizer, they needed one more goal to bury the game; when an opportunity for a goal opened up, they made the most of it. Skrtel fouled a player near the half line, and had a verbal joust with the referee over the decision, as the Slovak defenders strolled back to their posts. Van Bronckhorst made use of the temporary distraction to dispatch a long ball to Kuyt, who was ghosting around Slovakia’s box. The Liverpool striker headed the ball out of reach of the onrushing Mucha and rounded off the goalkeeper, and Sneijder drifted into the box to dispatch Kuyt’s pass into the unguarded goal. It proved to be a decisive goal, as the Slovaks scored a consolation penalty in the last minute of the game.
Disappointment of the day – Marek Hamsik (Slovakia)
The talented midfielder was expected to deliver to his potential against Netherlands, but failed to rise to the occasion. The Dutch game plan focused on cramping space for the Slovakian captain, and Van Bommel and Nigel de Jong succeeded in reducing Hamsik to a mere spectator on the field; his lack of contribution forced Robert Vittek and Miroslav Stoch to rely on their own individual skills in order to put their team on the score sheet. The only good thing Hamsik did for the day was to finally get a haircut, and the Mohawk seems to suit him pretty well.
Sight of the day – Lucio (Brazil)
The Brazilian captain showed his willingness to perform offensive duties, having the gall to participate in a counter attack of sorts. The last few matches have seen Lucio make occasional runs into the opposition half, but here for the first time he actually performed a box-to-box role; he intercepted a Chilean pass in his own box, ran into their half, sent a long pass to Robinho and lurked around in the opponent box, waiting for Robinho to provide a cross. He joins the list of central defenders who can make vital contributions to the team’s attack.
The Chile coach spent most of the time on the sidelines, his face flushed with anger at his players’ inability to penetrate the Brazilian defense in the first fifteen minutes – a sign that he recognized the paramount importance of capitalizing on whatever few chances his team would get against the mighty Brazil. His fury knew no bounds when an unmarked Juan scored a scorching header from a corner, and four minutes later Fabiano scored the second goal on a breath taking counter attack which also involved Kaka and Robinho; the camera captured his frustration as he walked from the sidelines to the bench after seeing his side go down twice. But after Brazil scored their third goal, Bielsa’s temper had receded by now, in resignation to the fact that Dunga’s men had outclassed and outwitted his side. However, he continued to bark orders to his players in a bid to restore some Chilean pride. Being angry can sometimes be a sign of a good and passionate coach.