July 2010

Oranje: Don’t Look So Surprised

Holland just downed Brazil two to one, leaving the contents of the tournament co-favorite (let’s not forget about Spain) to scatter across Western Europe in returning to their home clubs. I like the Dutch and I tend to root against Brazil, but this is no Oranje flag-waving piece. I’m not of Dutch descent and I didn’t leap into TYAC writer Puck’s arms whenever the Netherlands scored, that’s reserved for clinical Landon Donovan penalty kicks to draw the Yanks level.

So with the disclaimer out of the way, here’s my issue: Why is such a large portion of the footballing world in such shock over this result?

If the answer has to do with the World Cup history of the teams involved then I get it. You’ve got one country known for choking in the World Cup and lashing out at each other when things don’t go their way, often leaving it until the biggest matches late in tournaments against the most famous opposition to shit the bed on televisions across the world. And fighting out of the other corner you’ve got the country that’s won more World Cup’s than any other, prospering without regard to whether they’re the favorites or the wrongly overlooked.

There you have it, history gives the arrow to the Brazilians on the alternating possession.

But doesn’t the history portion of the match preview usually belong at the bottom of the article? An afterthought to the analysis of what the players on the teams are actually going to do on the pitch? A note to keep in mind, right?

My real issue is with the respected soccer minds, belonging to both pundits and fans alike, who chalked this one up to Brazil because they felt Dunga’s team was just too good for the current incarnation of the Dutch squad. These World Cup aficionados who’ve apparently been left slack-jawed and befuddled by the result needed a reality check. I’d say they got one.

Let’s kick the ballistics.

Dunga tried and partially succeeded in recreating the Brazilian national team in his own image. A hard tackling bunch who are slightly more cautious going forward, always making sure to cover on defense. The idea was that Brazil were going to score goals either way, and by eliminating the times they get caught in counterattack in the wake of a full-team push up-field, the team would nix the possibility of getting straight up outscored in a track meet style match. For the most part it worked; Didier Drogba’s well taken header was the only time the South American giants were burnt on the counterattack. Like a cult of personality level leader though, Dunga refused to bring a player who didn’t share his same ideaology. Ronaldinho was not invited to the World Cup. That looked like a solid decision up until we all realized that the onus must be placed on creativity from your attacking mids if the likes of Maicon, Bastos, and Melo are only given free reign to come forward one at a time. Case in point, Dunga had to go like-for-like when he subbed Nilmar for Fabiano late in the Holland match. It would have been nice to have Dinho available for anytime you’re trailing (for the U.S., Benny Feilhaber minutes).

Meanwhile in the Dutch camp, Euro ’08 was just the learning experience that the players needed. The patented Netherlands on-field teammate vs. teammate explosion reared its ugly head for the first time with this generation of players, and the Oranje once again learned that they can score, but if they don’t defend well they’ll exit big tournaments early. Enter new manager Bert van Marwijk. What his predecessor Marco van Basten did for revitalizing the team’s attackers like Dirk Kuyt, van Marwijk did for the goal’s against. Like Dinga across the pond, BVM emphasized organization and got results. Netherlands went from the team that let Russia run riot in the Euro to the squad with the best defensive record in UEFA World Cup qualifying. The new gaffer also checked the players’ egos, though slightly, and mandated that they don’t have to like each other, but they must perform together. And again, like Dunga, Bert too left a key player off their roster, but Ruud van Nistelrooy is a goal poacher like Huntelaar and (sometimes) Robin van Persie. While neither of the latter two have been spectacular this Cup, Ruud would be doing little more than getting into slightly better poaching/finishing positions, something that has yet to truly hurt the still-prolific enough Oranje Crush.

The rub: The two teams sound pretty evenly matched don’t they? You wouldn’t be faulted in picking either of these squads to win over the other, or to win the whole thing for that matter. Each team has loads of skill, and a weakness here or there. So bandwagon Brazil guy, it’s time to close your mouth, wipe your tears, and eat a little crow. This one could have gone either way, and that was the news flash you shouldn’t have needed before the match.

As far history goes, well more TV’s will be tuned in if Holland self-destructs in the final won’t they?

Jon Levy is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at jon@yanksarecoming.com.

Jon Levy