Josh Dean, one of the founding editors of the late PLAY, The New York Times Sports Magazine and occasional sportswriter for Rolling Stone and Outside, will be writing every weekday for The Sports Section about the World Cup. Today ... a look at today's two quarterfinal matchups.
Holland playing Brazil in the World Cup quarters kind of pisses me off; it's way too early to watch one of these two teams fly home, especially when you consider that either Ghana or Uruguay will be staying on to play in the semifinals. I mean no disrespect to the Black Stars, comprised in part of players who won the Under-20 World Cup in 2009 (over Brazil, by the way), or especially Uruguay, a team that has so far looked very good and is led by one of the finest striker tandems in the tournament in Luis Suarez and Young Michael Bolton. You might also be surprised to hear that Uruguay has actually won the World Cup — twice — though that was back in Ye Olden Times, when players wore wooden cleats and carried parasols to prevent collapsing from the vapors.
Speaking of wooden cleats, anyone who's been reading this column knows that I have picked Holland to win the tournament, which means that I'm obviously picking them to win this game, which in no way means that they will. I was a little surprised to learn that Brazil and Holland have only played three times at World Cups, most recently in 1998 in France, when Brazil won in a shootout after the teams tied 2–2 in regulation. The consensus coming in to the Cup was that this was a weak Brazilian team, but the complete opposite seems to be true. It's arguably the strongest Brazilian team in recent memory because for once the defense seems impenetrable, and that is a serious problem when you're playing a team that routinely scores three or four times a game.
In my opinion, it's Holland that has the more dynamic attack. There is no better threesome in the tournament than Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie, and Arjen Robben, especially now that Cristiano Ronaldo is gone and no longer hosting nightly hot-tub parties. Holland also has the weaker defense, so there's little chance of this game turning into one of those nil-nil snoozefests such as Japan-Paraguay, in which both coaches chose to deploy the controversial "summer camp defense": The eleven players simply stacked themselves, one on top of another, until the goal was completely blocked, save for a tiny hole at the top into which a perfectly struck Jabulani might sneak, had anyone been left to kick it.
If you're looking for fine points that could decide what looks like an evenly matched game, you could consider that Brazil will be missing both Elano (out with injury) and Ramires (out with yellow cards). However, one of them will be replaced by Dani Alves, a benchwarmer for Brazil who might actually be one of the three or four best right backs in the world. On the Dutch side, there's the rumored tension between Sneijder and Van Persie, neither of whom is willing to concede the claim to most stunning cheekbones — or is it primary playmaker? I can never remember which.
The deciding factor could come down to uniforms, and we all know that orange is more intimidating than yellow. I've already predicted this result once, but here we go again: 3–2 Holland.
Oh, is there another game? There is, unfortunately. Actually, I think Ghana versus Uruguay could be a good game, even if its coming second tomorrow makes it feel like sticking around for a soap-box derby after the completion of the Indy 500.
Neither of these two surprise quarterfinalists is likely to pack in the defense, though it could be low-scoring because they're both generally difficult to score upon. Each team features a balanced lineup and players who seem to be on the verge of becoming household names playing for big clubs.
Ghana is likely to once again deploy its vaunted five-man midfield, which felt more like eight or nine against the U.S., when the Black Stars possessed the ball like Spain, at least in the first half. Uruguay is an odd bird in this competition. They play lockdown defense (they've given up only one goal so far) and also score well, with a pair of guys capable of winning the golden boot in Suarez and Diego Forlan.
I'm going to pick Ghana only because they are Africa's last hope. South America still has four teams alive, and though it's actually possible that all four could advance to the semifinals, it's only polite that one African team should be allowed to stick around.
Let's go with 2–1 Black Stars.