The pass from Felipe Melo that cut through the heart of the Dutch defence, and the execution by Robinho, would have killed a lesser team. It was accomplished with such precision and ease that the whole of Holland must have feared the worst: if Brazil could do this once, then they could do it again. Their confidence could have crumbled, but it didn’t – they stayed strong, retained their belief and stuck to their game plan.
In every game there are turning points, key moments that shift the momentum one way or another. Ten minutes into the second half, Brazil conceded an equalizer, however the chaos in the Brazil defence that allowed this perhaps had as much of an effect as the goal itself. Keeper Julio Cesar flapped at the ball, Melo collided with him and the ball drifted off his head and into the net. The aura around the Brazilian defence, and the goalkeeper rated by coach Dunga as the best in the world, crumbled, fell apart, disintegrated.
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Holland grew in confidence. They started to control the game, and fifteen minutes later Sneijder glided through the Brazil back-line to glance a header past the static Cesar. One goal behind, with twenty minutes left, Brazil had the attacking flair to rescue the game, but their belief, that confidence and expectation of victory, began to ebb away. Robben tortured Brazil with his running with the ball, he invited the fouls, and frustration finally got the better of Melo when he trampled on the prone Robben and invited a red card.
At this point the game was won and lost – there was no coming back. Holland had a game plan, when things went wrong early on they stuck to it. They stayed in control, disciplined, and patient. When things went wrong for Brazil, they couldn’t adjust and fell apart mentally. Holland now go into the semi-final with Uruguay as overwhelming favourites, however the biggest danger is complacency and over-confidence.
In contrast to the Dutch, Uruguay struggled their way in to the semi-final, needing extra-time, a last-minute ‘hand-of-God’ goal-line save, a missed penalty, and then a penalty shootout to squeeze through. The match with Ghana was absorbing. Uruguay committed players forward, Ghana counter-attacked with power, pace and precision, and were roared on by most of the 84,000 crowd and the whole of Africa. They could have done little more than they did to win the game. The opening goal, a superb long-range drive from Sulley Muntari, was magnificent.
Diego Forlan equalised with a brilliant goal. Ghana came back, stayed strong, and worked tirelessly for the winner, Uruguay stayed with them, just. Then, in the most dramatic moment of the World Cup, in the final seconds of extra-time, Uruguay striker Suarez made a two-handed save of what would have been the goal that would have taken Ghana to the World Cup semi-final. He accepted the red card as the penalty he must pay, and was rewarded when Gyan struck the bar with his penalty kick, and his team-mates carried their luck and the momentum into the penalty shootout, scoring four of five, to Ghana’s two.
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Suarez will miss the semi-final, and having scored three goals so far and been such an important partner for Forlan, he will be missed. The influential defender and captain Lugano also picked up an injury and is a doubt: his presence would also be missed. Uruguay will feel that luck is on their side, and with Forlan they always have a chance, however Holland are formidable.
Sneijder is a giant in midfield, Robben is in exceptional form, and Van Persie has the ability to score goals. The midfield, with powerhouse De Jong, is both solid and creative, while a resolute defence is backed by keeper Stekelenburg who proved his ability with a stunning save from Kaka. Man for man Holland are better; as a team I feel they are stronger in every department, but a semi-final is one game, on one day between two teams and anything can happen. Holland should win but Uruguay may yet thank the hands of Suarez if Lady Luck stays with them.
Professional Management Group