Five-time World Cup champion Brazil is the sport’s greatest team, and they've paid The Netherlands a compliment by saying it's the European team who most resembles them.
Yet there is a hint of condescension in the observation. The Brazilians are all too aware that the last two times it met Holland in the tournament – at the same stage in 1994 and at a semi-final four years later – they prevailed.
But here are three reasons why this time the Netherlands will win:
1) Brazil's formidable defense contains one major weakness: left-back Michel Bastos. He has not impressed so far this tournament and has only kept his place because his cover is aging journeyman Gilberto, whose inclusion in the squad highlighted the paucity of options in a position long-owned by the imperious Roberto Carlos. This flaw in the Seleção’s rearguard is exacerbated by the tactical freedom granted to Robinho further forward on the left. He loves to roam in-field, often to devastating effect. But when Brazil loses the ball with him out of position, the already limited Bastos is left isolated.
2) In Arjen Robben the Dutch have the ideal player to expose this Brazilian weakness on the left. The Dutch were rather flat in their first two games in which Robben was rested in order to give him time to recover from injury. But he came on in the final group game and quickly livened things up, smacking a post with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scoring from the rebound. Against Slovakia he scored the opener with a goal that must be giving nightmares to Brazil. Robben collected a long ball out on his right and then ripped his way through the left side of the Slovakian defense before slotting it home. He will relish running at Bastos. Never short of confidence, in his minutes on the pitch so far Robben has looked like one of the few stars ready to live up to the pre-tournament hype.
3) The Netherlands got a huge boost on Wednesday when Elano was ruled out for Brazil after failing to recover in time from the injury he received June 20 against the Ivory Coast. The midfielder is fundamental to Coach Dunga’s tactical scheme and has been a constant presence during his tenure. His discipline and work ethic – attributes that quicken Dunga’s pulse – are what allow players like Kaká and Robinho the freedom to push forward. But he is no mere water carrier. Elano also chips in his own fair share of goals – nine in 46 games for his country, including one each in his two appearances so far this World Cup. Dani Alves will take his slot – for any other team a world-class replacement – but without Elano, Brazil loses its fluidity.
Don't buy the argument? Read three reasons why the Brazil will beat The Netherlands.
World Cup 101: