Monday, June 28, 2010
WORLD CUP: Monday's round-of-16 previews
By Scott French
NETHERLANDS VS. SLOVAKIA
When: 7 a.m. PT. Where: Moses Mabhida Stadium (Durban)
TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), 7 a.m.; ESPN Classic, delayed, 3 p.m.; Galavision, delayed, 9:30 p.m.; ESPN2, delayed, 11 p.m.
Referee: Alberto Undiano (Spain)
Players to watch: Midfield general Wesley Sneijder is a Golden Ball (MVP) candidate for the Dutch -- there are few playmakers his equal -- and Arjen Robben's return to full health has added another dimension to their deep, delicious attack. Robert Vittek has become a star in South Africa, scoring three goals to lead Slovakia into the knockout phase. Marek Hamsik might be the best young playmaker on the planet.
The scoop: Slovakia's struggles in its first two games have been forgotten following a superb display to knock disinterested Italy out of the running, but they'll need something extra to compete with Holland's incredible talent. The Oranje, on a 22-game unbeaten streak, might be the most skillful side in the Cup, and their chances to accomplish what the 1974 and 1978 teams should have but couldn't -- win the trophy -- are looking reasonable right now. Sneijder and Robben are special players, but Robben might again start on the bench, as he did against Cameroon, his first game back from injury. Robin van Persie is showing signs of finding his game again, and it will be tough for Slovakia to slow down that trio. Attacking midfielder Miroslav Stoch's return from injury raised the Repre's game, and Zdeno Strba's suspension will allow coach Vladimir Weiss to give a star to Kamil Kopunek, who netted a sensational goal in the win over Italy.
History: This is the first meeting between the nations, but Holland and Czechoslovakia battled nine times, the most recent in 1986, with the Czechs (and, of course, Slovaks) winning six of them. The two biggest encounters went for Czechoslovakia: a 3-0 romp in the first round of the 1938 World Cup and a 3-1 semifinal victory in overtime en route to the title at Euro 1976, the country's only major championship.
Prediction: Netherlands 4, Slovakia 0
BRAZIL VS. CHILE
When: 11:30 a.m. PT. Where: Ellis Park/Coca-Cola Park (Johannesburg)
TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), 11:30 a.m.; ESPN Classic, delayed, 5 a.m. TeleFutura (KFTR/Channel 46), delayed, 7 p.m.; ESPN2, delayed, 1 a.m. (Tuesday)
Referee: Howard Webb (England)
Players to watch: Kaka, back from a red-card suspension, provides the substance (and some of the style) of Brazil's attack, and his connections with Robinho and Luis Fabiano will determine the Seleccao's success. Jorge Valdivia plays a similar role as Kaka for Chile; Humberto Suazo, expected to play after sitting out the Spain game, is a superb finisher.
The scoop: Brazil has the advantage in every aspect of this South American clash except one: stylishness. Dunga's pragmatism might take the Brazilians to a sixth World Cup title, but it's winning few fans at home while Chilean coach Marcelo Bielsa's engrossing attack, through a daring 3-3-1-3 formation, is a reminder of what Brazil used to be. But the Seleccao is deeper, stronger defensively and have owned the series since 2000, winning the last seven meetings (by a 26-3 score) and coasting to 4-2 and 3-0 triumphs in qualifying. They struggled to break down North Korea's and Portugal's bunkers in group play, but Chile's mindset plays to their strengths, and the returns of Kaka and Elano add to the side's class. Chile battled well against Spain, even with 10 men, and the returns from suspension of midfielders Matias Fernandez and Carlos Camona will help. But three players are missing to suspension, two of them defenders (Gary Medel and Waldo Ponce) and the other a defensive midfielder (Marco Estrada).
History: Brazil is 46-7-12 against the Chileans, and only four of those losses have come in true competition: one in World Cup qualifying and three in Copa America, South America's nations championship. Brazil dominated both World Cup meetings, dispatching Chile, 4-2, in Santiago in the 1962 semifinals (with Garrincha scoring twice and Pele on the bench) and taking a 4-1 round-of-16 decision in Paris 12 years ago (with Ronaldo and Cesar Sampaio scoring twice apiece).
Prediction: Brazil 3, Chile 1