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The Cup Running Over


June 27, 2010 5:56 PM

Netherlands-Slovakia: On Paper, the Dutch Run Away With It

SLOVAKIA

The Good News: The team's vaunted offense finally got going in a last-day 3-2 victory over Italy. Marek Hamsik is one of the most creative midfield players in the tournament. Proved in the qualifying campaign that it belongs on the world stage by winning a group which included Slovenia, Poland, and rival, the Czech Republic

The Bad News:
Kind of lucky to be here, as it drew the easiest group in South Africa and then beat Italy in the last game to go through. If you can't beat New Zealand, how good can you be, really? As good as the offense is, the defense is worse.

Pedigree:
None -- this is a new country so this is its first appearance at the tournament. As part of Czechoslovakia, of course, it got to two championship games -- losing both after leading.

Player to Watch:
Robert Vittek has been on fire up front, scoring almost all the team's goals and even orchestrating the offense as he holds the ball up and waits for his teammates to attack with him. And, if Slovakia can't score, it can't win.

To Win:
There are only two ways the Slovakians prevail. One is if the Dutch self-destruct -- handballs, own goals, that kind of thing. The alternative is the Slovakians play in a completely new style and go for a 1-0 result. If the Slovakians can get to penalties, they have a chance as Holland's goalie is relatively untested and the Dutch have been known to perform poorly from the spot. But a 90-minute shootout with the Dutch? Not advisable.



Slovakia-Italy-Robert-Vittek-celeb_2469843.jpg
For Slovakia to have a chance, striker Robert Vittek must continue to score. (Courtesy -- Sky Sports)




NETHERLANDS


The Good News: On paper, this is one of the best teams at the tournament which, as an added bonus, has suddenly discovered that it can play defense too, as it allowed only one goal in the first round, the result of playing two holding midfielders. So far, the offense hasn't gotten going but it's potent, what with a strong midfield and Robin Van Persie up front and Arjen Robben right behind him. Robben, who's been injured, hasn't even played at the Cup yet and the Dutch have still won all three games, scoring in each.

The Bad News:
The keeper, Maarten Stekelenberg, isn't great and the Dutch really haven't moved beyond second gear at the tourney yet, which means maybe they never will. And, of course, the team's history is one of constant underachievement.

Pedigree:
"The best team to never win a Cup" is Holland's traditional description -- both in terms of the 1974 team, thought be many to be the greatest of all-time, and all squads. Last time, in a typical performance, Holland shined at the group stage, only to be eliminated in the next round in a lackluster performance against Portugal. The Dutch like to play beautiful attacking soccer through their wingers, assuming the goals will come. Except sometimes, they don't.

Player to Watch:
A number of these players are all-world (Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder) but unless Robben has a good and injury-free tournament from now on, Holland can't win it all.

To Win:
See the Slovakian description above. If the Dutch don't throw it away they should win, perhaps decisively. But they definitely shouldn't let it get to penalty kicks, where they are almost England's equal at blowing them.


Prediction: In a Cup in which upsets have ruled the day, it's hard to be too confident about any one result. But it would take a monumental letdown on the part of the Dutch for them to lose this game. They went undefeated in qualification and then undefeated in the first round of this tourney. Right now, they are the European side closest to top form, along with the Germans.





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