Brazil, without suspended Ramires and injured Elano, face the Netherlands today in what promises to be an explosive World Cup quarter-final.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk, appointed after Euro 2008 when Holland excelled in the ‘”Group of Death” only to run out of steam against Russia, has claimed his team are the “underdogs.”
“Brazil are a very mature and stable team,” he said. “They convey a positive form of arrogance, that others cannot win. We might be the underdogs against Brazil, for the first time in this World Cup.”
The Netherlands’ previous international outings have often been marked by discord in the camp, sometimes along racial lines, but one of the hallmarks of this year’s squad has been its harmony.
That unity was briefly threatened by an outburst from Robin van Persie who when he was taken off during Monday’s last 16 win over Slovakia reportedly said “it is not me that should be substituted but Wesley Sneijder.”
Van Persie later denied that he had mentioned Sneijder, but just to be on the safe side van Marwijk held clear the air talks between the pair, with Sneijder later insisting nothing had happened.
Dunga’s Brazil meanwhile are aiming to become the first of what could be an all-South American cast list for the semi-finals.
The Selecao are seemingly coming to the boil at just the right time judged on their 3-0 last 16 rout of Chile, one of the most attractive sides at these finals.
Goals from Juan, Luis Fabiano and Robinho put Brazil into the last eight with a record of three wins and a draw with Portugal.
Brazil suffered a shock quarter-final defeat to eventual beaten finalists France in Germany in 2006, and are anxious to atone for that reverse as they seek a sixth world crown.
Gilberto Silva said: “I believe we can win [the title].”
Turning to the upcoming test against the Netherlands, the former Arsenal midfielder added: “We know that if we give them space it will be very difficult for us and we could have a problem.”
Dunga, under enormous pressure to deliver the title, has the utmost respect for today’s opposition.
“They play their football like South Americans,” the 1994 World Cup winning captain said.
“Even though Brazil have beaten the Dutch twice before, every World Cup provides its own experience,” Dunga said. “Holland have a good tradition at the World Cup, we have to be very careful with the Dutch players, they are very technically able and we have to be able to deal with that.”
In midfield Dunga is without Ramires, suspended after picking up a second booking against Chile. Elano, who has scored twice, is also out with the ankle injury he suffered against the Ivory Coast.
Felipe Melo is also carrying an ankle injury and faces a race against time to take Ramires’ place on the left.
Kaka is one of three Brazilians and no fewer than seven Dutch who will miss an eventual semi-final should they receive a second yellow card.
Uruguay will be chasing its first World Cup semi-final appearance for 40 years today while Ghana are bidding to make history for Africa.
The quarter-final match at Soccer City brings together a two-time, World Cup winner that have not gone this far since 1970 and a team that is in uncharted territory, carrying the weight of an entire continent.
For decades, Uruguay have been in the shadow of South American rivals Brazil and Argentina but have now joined them in the last eight at the World Cup on merit.
Uruguay have a solid defense and a three-pronged attacking formation with Diego Forlan playing just behind Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
Coach Oscar Tabarez went to that system after the team labored to a 0-0 draw with France, and the result was two strikes by Forlan in a 3-0 victory over hosts South Africa. Uruguay also beat Mexico 1-0 thanks to a goal by Suarez, who then netted two in a 2-1 victory over South Korea.
“He is quite calm as a coach, with a lot of experience, who knows how to handle the group very well,” Forlan said of Tabarez. “The experience that he has from [the 1990 World Cup] and other teams has helped us all a lot.”
Uruguay have been forced into a change in defense with Diego Godin ruled out with a thigh injury. But Forlan has recovered sufficiently from a damaged toe and will face the Ghanaians.
Ghana are without suspended players Jonathan Mensah and Andre Ayew but striker Asamoah Gyan is expected to recover from an ankle injury he picked up in the second-round victory over the US.
The biggest problem for the last African team left in the competition is the enormous weight of expectations.
But Ghana’s Serbian coach, Milovan Rajevac, says the prospect of becoming the first team from the continent to reach the last four will motivate his squad.
“We are not thinking about the pressure. We played very well at the African [Cup of)] Nations so we have already proved that we are a team that knows how to compete,” he said. “We will try to relax.”
“You know it is good for us to be here. We are very happy with the whole situation,” the Ghana coach said.
“We have no obligation but still we want to use this opportunity to do our best and to make history,” he said.
Rajevac said his group of players was growing in confidence with each match.
“Of course, sometimes you feel a little pressure. This is the highest level there is but we just try to do our best every match,” he said. “We give the maximum.”
Rajevac said his team needs to beware of Uruguay’s attacking threat.
“Uruguay have been very impressive,” he said. “They are a South American nation with players playing in the best leagues in Europe. They have to be one of the best teams in the world. They deserve every respect and Forlan is a fine player.”
“But we will play the way that has brought us success so far. We are not going to adjust our style and we will try to use whatever weakness we can find in our opponents. What is very important is to be able to change your system as the match demands,” he said.
Rajevac guided Ghana to the African Cup of Nations in February and has taken the team to the last eight of the World Cup despite the absence of their best player, Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, who has been sidelined with a serious right knee injury.
“When I came to Ghana it took a lot of hard work and now, after all this hard work, you can see the results today,” he said. “I am very proud of everything we have done in the last two years.”
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