Two pairs of players are looking for a big game tomorrow to catapult their names into history- Robinho vs Robben and Kaka vs Sneijder.
Both teams have been patient in this World Cup. Their flair players have had some shining moments but for the most part both teams have employed one gear preferring to look solid rather than spectacular. They have soaked up pressure and relied on the counterattack.
Brazil employed that to perfection against a Chilean midfield that dominated possession in the second half but left plenty of gaps for Kaka and Ramires to expose which Luis Fabiano and Robinho punished. The same could be said about Slovakia who proved tough when they had the ball but were unable to stop Robben and Sneijder.
These two teams over the years have become conservative, Netherlands more so than Brazil. So what do we look for?
Shots on goal: A gamechanging stat
The two team approaches look similar but there are key areas of differences. The Netherlands is more sparing in its attack but makes up for it with its efficiency. They have had fewer forays compared to Brazil, in fact 14 less. This has resulted in 58 shots attempted out of which 29 have been on target. 7 goals have resulted.
The Brazilians have on the other hand have been more scattershot (only Argentina is ahead) - 74 times out of which 27 have been on target. These have netted 8 goals.
The Selecao will try and keep up that high volume of shots to overcome Marten Stekelenberg for that decisive goal. There is a reason why they have to do this.
The Brazilians have been lethal at scoring goals in the penalty area whereas the Netherlands use the long range threat of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben for a more varied look. The deeper the Netherlands push out the Brazilians, the better the chances of low percentage shots.
Speed of attack: Pushing up the ball
The high volume Brazilian attack rely on quickness on the flanks from Michel Bastos and Maicon to step up the counterattacking tempo. They are one of the fastest teams in the World Cup whereas the Oranje are actually one of the slowest along with Spain.
This is because the Netherlands under Bert van Marwijk is even more conservative than Brazil under Dunga. They only release the ball to Robben or Van Persie after plenty of lateral movement. There are very few solo runs. Van Marwijk has relied on the services of Eljero Elia on the left to introduce that element of speed in the second half. With the return of Robben one can expect more alacrity on the right.
Asymmetrical flanks: Recruitment of players
With Rafael Van Der Vaart deputizing in place of Arjen Robben, the attack dragged out to the left. Again with the introduction of Eljero Elia as a substitute for Van Der Vaart, this territorial imbalance was maintained. Wesley Sneijder preferring to operate in a more central position just inside Van Der Vaart. With Robben, there should be more attacking symmetry which should make the Dutch less predictable and Maicon's job easier.
The Brazilians are center-right heavy. With Elano, Kaka, Maicon, and Dani Alves operating on an overlapping scale down the right, the attack emanates with fairly uniform predictability down this flank. Robinho likes to fly down straight as an arrow down the center from deeper areas. Only Michel Bastos gives some countervail to the left. This imbalance should make Giovanni Von Bronckhorst and Joris Mathijsen's life quite interesting but it could also give occasion to Mark Von Bommel and Nigel De Jong to rush to their aid with regularity.
Would Marwijk like to gamble shifting a fuller complement of "man markers" on the right and to the center might stifle the attack and take his chances with Bastos? Most of the passes to Robinho come from the right- center midfield (~ 75%). Luis Fabiano gets about half from that source with another quarter coming from Robinho.
Areas of improvement:
The Dutch might be a bit disappointed with their set pieces. Free kicks and corners have not proven to be a factor. Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie, and Arjen Robben should be able to boost that department.
The Brazilians have been quite resolute in defense overall but they do give up a lot of tackles. This was quite clear in the matches against Ivory Coast and Chile. The Elephants were able to come back in the match late in the second half and Chile were bossing the ball around after winning the 50-50s.