Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Brazil nuts and Dutch oranges. Plenty to nibble on before Friday's quarter-final

So Brazilian nuts or Dutch oranges. Plenty to nibble at before Port Elizabeth on Friday. In theory, South Africa 2010’s first quarter-final will be about Dutch “total football” versus Brazil’s “beautiful game”.

But hold on a minute. Both sides are under pressure from the critics at home to stick to their traditional flowing style. The touch of pragmatism that Bert van Marwijk and Dunga have brought to their sides has been a vital part of getting to the last eight.

Van Marwijk says: "We are here for one reason. To win the big prize. We have to believe it. Against Brazil, perhaps we might be the underdogs for the first time in South Africa.

“People laughed at us when we said we were capable of winning the World Cup. But you have to show a real mentality, a constant focus. I think we are showing that."

Lively Lambertus, 58, knows the Dutch have never won “the big prize”, though they reached the final in Germany 74 and Argentina 74. The Brazilians have won five global crowns on four continents – Asia, North America, Europe and at home – and appear destined to win Africa’s first World Cup.

Officially, Holland are the fourth best side in the world. Brazil, in case you’ve been camping in the Antarctic, are the best side in the world.

Head-to-head, it’s surprisingly close. Holland have won two, Brazil three and they’ve fought out four draws in nine games, with the Dutch scoring 13 and Brazil 14.

This is no flowery Brazil side. In rock-hard centre-back Lucio and goal-scoring full-back Maicon, they offer to of the best defenders in the world. Up front we all know about Kaka, Robinho and the rest.

But Holland boast Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and a fit-again Arjen Robben, three of Europe’s form players.

Robben made his first start in the last 16 clash win over Slovakia and scored after 18 minutes. He said: "It was a great feeling to start this game. I think it was also good to feel important for this team. I am not yet at my top level but I was pretty confident."

But despite their fourth consecutive triumph at this World Cup and a record-breaking run of 23 unbeaten games, Dutch experts decried their lack of style and panache. Robben growled: "It was a difficult match. We didn't play our best game but, at the end of the day, it's all about winning.

"I hope we will save our best match for our next game. We want to improve. We know what people have said in the past, that we play well but we don't get to the end. Against Slovakia we were efficient."

Months ago, when I booked my tickets for this tournament, I was lucky enough to get a posh seat for game 57, the quarter-final at the brand new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, before I head off to talk at the National Arts Festival in nearby Grahamstown. I can hardly wait.

With all four quarter-finals featuring clashes against Latin American opposition, the final word from Dunga, the man who has added grit to the Brazilian flair. He says: "We have already said we are trying to play the open football which everyone wants to see. The players did well and we got forward a lot in our 3-0 win over Chile.

“We know the Netherlands are a very difficult team to beat and they are very able technically, they play their football like South Americans.”

At this World Cup, with Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina also through to the last eight, that might be the only way to play.

Neal Collins is in South Africa to marvel at the South Americans, mourn England... and promote his first novel A GAME APART, the real story behind this World Cup. For more information see

To see him talk at the National Arts Festival on July 4, go to

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