The FIFA World Cup officially kicked-off today as hosting nation Brazil logged their first victory after defeating Croatia 3-1. Tomorrow, the teams of Group B will hold their first matches of the tournament, as Spain faces off with the Netherlands and Chile goes up against the Socceroos. A lot of the buzz surrounding tomorrow’s games has focused on the implicit significance of the Spain-Netherlands reunion. The two teams will be picking up where they left off in the 2010 World Cup, when Spain upset the Netherlands in the final match.
The notoriety of the final game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup has been rejuvenated as Spain and the Netherlands prepare to meet each other once again. The final match of the last World Cup saw record-breaking yellow cards, 9 of the fifteen going to the Dutch. As such, the game has since become largely defined by its physical nature and excessive fouls. The most remembered—and undoubtedly the worst—of the fouls was Nigel De Jong’s infamous cleat-up tackle to the chest of Xabi Alonso of Spain. In light of the card-happy nature of that game, many hard feelings persist as to why only a yellow card was issued.
There have been some changes in the Dutch squad since they last encountered Spain. Only 7 of the players present at the previous FIFA World Cup are on the national team’s roster in Brazil. In light of Louis van Gaal’s move to take on new and fresh legs, the contrast with Spain’s aged squad has been brought to the fore of conversation. The experience of the older squad is undoubtedly valuable, especially in the context of the World Cup, however there might be some advantage there for the Dutch to foster some youthful tenacity.
The flip side of that coin is the inexperience of the Dutch defensive line. Much of the glory of the Dutch squad goes to strikers Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. With the Oranje midfielders Kevin Strootman and Rafael van der Vaart on the injured list, the pressure has risen for the team’s more inexperienced players to fill the void. Without a strong, cohesive midfield, the likelihood of Robben and Persie being dangerous in the attacking third dwindles. Also a potential concern is the added pressure that is placed on a team’s defense when offensive ball possession goes out the window. The Dutch starting formation is still up for debate, as van Gaal has been tweaking the back line throughout the warm up games. Going off of his line-ups for the friendly matches, he could choose from a 3-4-1-2, a 4-3-3, or he might decide to adopt a 5-man back line.
The determining factor of tomorrow’s game will be whether or not the Dutch can hold it together in the back and midfield. If not, David Silva, Diego Costa, and Andrés Iniesta will have free run over a disorganized Dutch squad. Tensions are high as the memory of the 2010 FIFA World Cup final rises to the surface, and one thing to be sure of tomorrow is how physical both teams will play.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson