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World Cup 2014: Third-Place Match Prediction

Like it? That's an Italian wine bottle shaped in the World Cup. I got it back in 1990 when Italy hosted, and finished third.

Like it? That’s an Italian wine bottle shaped in the World Cup. I got it back in 1990 when Italy hosted, and finished third.

This is the match neither of the two teams wanted to play but really have no other choice. Doesn’t it make you wonder who wins the Third-Place Match at the World Cup? The team that’s the least disheartened? Or the team that most feels they have one last thing to prove? A neat bit of trivia: the third-place match is the one World Cup match that has never come down to a penalty shootout and went into extra time only once in the World Cup’s history. Whatever the situation, the two semifinal losers will duke it out for one last World Cup shot in the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha.

I don’t think very many people make predictions for the third-place match. Maybe they do. Whatever the situation, I thin I’ll make a prediction for Saturday’s game. First a rundown of the two teams. Starting with past head-to-head results.

Past Head-To-Head Results: Netherlands and Brazil have squared off eleven times before: Netherlands won three, Brazil three and five draws and both teams have scored a total of 15 goals against each other. The World Cup has been the stage for four of those previous rivalries. First was in 1974 during second-round group play which the Netherlands won 2-0. Second time was in the 1994 quarterfinals where Brazil was the victor that time 3-2. Third time was the following World Cup in the semifinals where they tied 1-1 only for Brazil to win in a penalty shoot out. Fourth time was at the last World Cup in the quarterfinals where Brazil pretty much gave it away with an own-goal and Oranje won 2-1. So what does the fifth World Cup rivalry look like?

Netherlands FootballNETHERLANDS: Here’s a team that’s struggling to get their first World Cup win. Three times the bridesmaid (1974, 1978 and 2010), never the bride. Here in 2014, they were brilliant in the group stage winning all their games and humiliating defending champions Spain 5-1.  They continued to look good with their 2-1 win over Mexico in the Round of 16. However there was a sign they would struggle when they played to a scoreless draw against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals. Hey, don’t underestimate Costa Rica’s defense. Fortunately their replacement goalkeeper Tim Krul was the right choice as he blocked two Costa Rican penalty kicks to help Netherlands advance to the semifinals.

Then their semifinal against Argentina. Netherlands had slightly more ball possession while Argentina had five attempts on target compared to three from the Dutch. Nevertheless it was awfully bleak for a game like that. The two were just tough rivals. So after 120 scoreless minutes, it took penalty kicks to decide. This time head goalkeeper Cillessen was kept in. However  the penalty kicks from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder were no match for Argentina’s Sergio Romero. It only took a four in a row from Argentina to take them to the final.

So now that the Dutch are out of contention for the Cup, will they win this match? They have played one third-place match before back in 1998 to Croatia and lost 2-1. They have shown in plays against Argentina and Costa Rica that they can control the ball and they can control their opponents, even when they don’t score. They showed in their 5-1 win against Spain they can really seize the moment and challenge a top rival. However the fact they haven’t scored a goal since the Round of 16 really makes me question if the ‘Orange Magic’ has faded. Also who knows how hungry Brazil is? And I’ll get to them later. If they want to win, they should maintain the same control they had during the field play time they had. Also Cillessen should be on guard. Until the penalty shoot out against Argentina, he has only conceded four goals this World Cup. Natherlands has the ability but do they have the hunger?

Brazil FootballBRAZIL: To be honest, there were actually bigger humiliations at this World Cup than Tuesday’s Mineirazo. Like defending champs Spain losing 5-1 to the Netherlands and then 2-0 to Chile to be out of the running. Or how about England failing to win a game for the first time since 1958? Even Italy being ousted in Group Stage for the second World Cup in a row is a pretty big embarrassment. Nevertheless Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to Germany right in front of a home crowd as World Cup host nation really bruised the nation’s football ego. A nation that had the biggest World Cup legacy had their current teams weaknesses exposed by Germany on a home stage and in front of the eyes of the World. And they still have to fight one last time.

No doubt this was a team that was showing signs of struggle. Coach Scolari knew the difficulties he had to deal with and team psychologist Regina Brandao really had to work with the team. The setbacks of Neymar getting his back broken and Thiago Silva being banned from the semifinal match was sure to almost everybody this would set Brazil back, but nobody expected a disaster like this.

Now that the third-place match is ahead, there may be question if Brazil will be ready physically. Neymar of course won’t be there. Thiago Silva can be eligible to play again which should be crucial as he was critical to their defense. Also the question if Fred will be on the roster especially after his bad play during the game. Also there is the big question of whether Brazil will be there for the game mentally. You can bet that between Tuesday and Saturday, Brandao will have to work better than she ever has. Of all current players on Brazil’s team, it’s probably Julio Cesar that would probably be the one most hurt mentally. He’s the one that let those seven goals in.

There have been big-name athletes and teams that would have to perform right after a humiliating performance. Some would be the all-or-nothing type and deliver half-heartedly and then there are some that would deliver for pride and come out shining despite losing it all. That’s what it would come down to with Brazil’s play on Saturday. Brazil has played three third-place matches in past World Cups and won two but this is a different third-place match for the team. We know how hurt they are but how will they deliver on their last shot for glory?

Prediction: Okay, you all know what my pick is. I’ll tell you who I think will win and who I want to win. I think it will be the Netherlands 2-1. I think Brazil might not have recovered from Tuesday’s match psychologically. Though I could be wrong. Actually I hope I’m wrong because I want Brazil to win for pride. In fact I sent the Brazilian team a tweet: “Finish the way a true athlete would and WIN ON SATURDAY!”

Update (11 July): Actually I did some thinking in the past 24 hours and even did some reading. And I didn’t let statistics get in the way, even though World Cup host nations have played the third-place match four times before and won three times. Actually I based my opinion on team attitude. That is a critical factor for the third-place match. And my new prediction is Brazil 2-1. The Netherlands lacks motivation. Coach Louis Van Gaal sees the game as pointless, Wesley Sneijders said the only match that matters is the one for the Cup and Arjen Robben has appeared equally disinterested. However the Brazilians are very motivated for this match. And rightly so. Scolari has encouraged the team to play the match out for pride and the honor of the Brazilian team. I’m sure after the embarrassment on Tuesday, that is the motivation they will need. Even the teammates agree, and Thiago Silva is eligible to play again. Go Brasil!

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Euro 2012: With One Last Group Stage Game Left

Go Slavek! Go Slavko!

It’s always that way whether it’s the Euro or World Cup. The Group Stage is always what separates the contenders from the pretenders. The contenders qualify for the quarterfinals and keep playing until the last team is standing. The pretenders pack for home earlier than they hoped. This Euro has told a lot about each of the four teams in each of the four groups. So with the final game for each group’s teams coming up, here’s my team-by-team rundown:

GROUP A

Russia- They have been the class of the group so far with their 4-1 win against the Czechs. But they would soon find themselves humbled by Poland with a 1-1 draw. Even a simple draw against Greece would have them advancing and it would have to take a win from the Czechs or a big win from the Poles to displace Russia from #1. The only way Russia could fail to qualify is if they lose to Greece by at least a -4 goal differential and either team from the other game winning. Otherwise Russia is very comfortable in qualifying.

Czech Republic- Czechs are also comfortable as they could just simply draw against the Poles and still advance. They may have taken a beating from Russia but their win against Greece keeps their hopes alive. Mind you it’s very chancy. Poland has pulled some surprises. If Poland wins, Czechs are packing early. Simple as that.

Poland-If there’s one team in this group that had the most to prove, it was Poland. The team at Euro with the lowest FIFA ranking (65th), they had something to prove and boy have they done it. They haven’t won a game yet but they’ve drawn 1-1 against Greece in the Euro opener and even drawn 1-1 against Russia. The latter is remarkable since Russia had one of the tournament’s biggest winning games so far. Goes to show what a homefield advantage can do. Since Greece and the Czech Republic already have a loss, this puts Poland at an advantage as they face their final Group Stage match against the Czech Republic. Already Poland is ranked 3rd in the group standings. A win, and nothing less, is what it takes for them to qualify for the quarterfinals. Can they do it?

Greece-They drew hosts Poland in the opening game and then lost to the Czech Republic. This is it plain and simple. They need to have nothing less than a win of +3 goal differential against Russia if they are to have any chance at qualifying. The winner of the Poland vs. Czech Republic game will be the one qualifying and Russia already has a 4-1 win. Even if the Poles and the Czechs draw, Czech Republic will be the one moving on if Greece doesn’t win.

GROUP B

Germany- They seem to have it the most comfortable of all teams at this Euro. Two games, two wins. That doesn’t mean they’re completely guaranteed a berth in the quarterfinals. The only ways Germany can fail to qualify is if Portugal wins and Denmark wins either 1-0, 2-1 or with a +2 goal differential. That just shows how tight it is in this Group of Death. There’s no telling what will happen. Even though Germany’s comfortable right now, who know? A simple draw against Denmark can have them qualifying #1 in their group but don’t forget the Danes surprised the Dutch.

Portugal- Portugal started out with a 1-0 loss against Germany and then came roaring back against Denmark with a 3-2 win. Even though Portugal and Denmark have the same win-loss stats and goal differentials, Portugal has the advantage because their win was bigger than Denmark’s 1-0 win. Draws in the next games will help Germany and Portugal advance. The only chance Portugal doesn’t have of qualifying is if the Netherlands wins and both Denmark even so much as draws Germany. Knowing that all final games of the Group Stage are simultaneous, there are no taking chances. And Portugal wouldn’t want to do that.

Denmark-They were the surprise of the group. Lowest ranked of the four but they beat Netherlands 1-0 and give Portugal a strong challenge in their 3-2 loss. They can qualify not just by simply drawing against Germany but if the Netherlands beat Portugal. Otherwise nothing less than a win against Germany is what they need to move on.

Netherlands-The problem with being in the Group Of Death is that even the best teams in the World can face stiff competition and look less powerful than they are. Netherlands is the team that had it the worst here at the Euro. A 0-1 loss to Denmark and a 2-1 loss to Germany. Its only chance of qualifying comes not just in beating Portugal but in Germany beating Denmark. Anything less and the Dutch are packing. This should make for an interesting match. Will the Dutch play hard and well or will it all be in vain?

GROUP C

Spain-Funny how they used to be known as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’ and they sure have been achieving a lot in the last five years. They’ve continued their achieving here with a 4-0 victory against Ireland and a healthy 1-1 draw against Italy. Their lead is comfortable enough that they could still qualify if they lose against Croatia and Ireland draws against Italy. Mind you they could be out if they lose to Croatia and Italy wins. This group may not be as much of a group of death as Group B but they have their own tight statistics that can even cause Spain to be out in the Group Stage. It will all be decided Monday.

Croatia-Like Spain, they too are quite comfortable. A win against Spain means they win the group. A draw against Spain still has them moving on but the draw would have to be at least 1-1 and Italy doesn’t do better than 2-0 against Ireland. A 2-2 draw against Spain would help them qualify provided Italy doesn’t win 3-0. Even if they lose to Spain, Croatia can still qualify if Ireland beats Italy. Mind you I’m sure the Croats won’t want to take any chances.

Italy-After 1-1 draws against Spain and Croatia, this is it. Croatia and Spain both have a win and a draw under their belt. They have to win against Ireland if they are to move on. The real complicated part comes in being #1 in the group. The only way that could happen is if a win of 2-0 and Spain and Croatia have a scoreless draw. A 1-1 draw of Spain and Croatia would mean Italy would have to beat Ireland 4-0 for #1. Yeah, this numbers thing is confusing but for the teams it matters tons. Especially for the Azzuri since they want to recover from their Group Stage ouster form the 2010 World Cup.

Ireland-Simply put, it’s over. A 3-1 loss to Croatia and a 4-0 loss to Spain marks the end of Ireland’s chances completely. This should make it interesting in their game against Italy. Even though it’s over, they could still try to beat Italy for the sake of their own pride. I’ve seen it done before at World Cups where the team that’s out and knows it still makes the effort to win with one last thing to prove. Could Ireland do it? They face a tight challenge from the Azzuri hungry for its first win.

GROUP D

France-If you remember the 2010 World Cup, France’s performance was so dreadful the president of the French Football Association resigned before their last Group Stage game. When you hit rock bottom, all that you can do is rebuild. France’s rebuilt team has obviously paid off here. A 1-1 draw against England and a 2-0 win against Ukraine has France top of the group with one last game to play. The only way France can fail to qualify is if they lose to Sweden and Ukraine beats England. And even then it would have to come down to some tricky goal-scoring numbers to deny France a quarterfinal berth.

England-Like France, they too have a  draw and a win. Unlike France, their win against Sweden was 3-2. Their single-goal differential is what puts them in second. For England to be top of the group, they not only have to win but France would have to lose or draw against Sweden or England’s win would have to be two more goals than a France’s win. England can simply draw against Ukraine on Tuesday and they’d still qualify. A loss to Ukraine would be what would deny England a quarterfinal berth. The only way they could qualify upon losing against Ukraine is if Sweden beats France by at least two goals. Do you think England would want that to happen?

Ukraine-Like co-host Poland, they too had low expectations but surprised everyone with a 2-1 win against Sweden. The excitement died down four days later with a 2-0 loss to France. Plain and simple, Ukraine has to win against England if they want to qualify. The only other option would be drawing and Sweden beating France by at least 3 goals. Knowing that’s an impossibility, you can imagine Ukraine wants to be ready on Tuesday. Three Euro hosts of the past have failed to make it past Group Stage. You can bet Ukraine doesn’t want to be added to that list.

Sweden-Like Ireland, they’re out. Not even a big win against France can help them qualify for the quarterfinals. Their match against France would be as interesting as Ireland’s match against Italy as it could be one last thing for Sweden to prove. Also interesting for Sweden, Ireland or any of the other six countries that get eliminated is to see in the months ahead what changes they’ll be making to their football board, coaching or even player roster as the World Cup qualifiers start just months from now. The teams will want to take from this experience in all their victories and defeats and learn from it in preparation for qualifying for a World Cup berth. Will they improve? Will they still stay the same? Or will they get worse during the qualifying matches? Only time will tell.

And there you have it. A summary of the teams and what they need to do to qualify for the quarterfinals. Nothing is really sacred for any team right now. Even though Germany has the most comfortable qualifying chances, there’s still a slim chance they may be eliminated: slim but still possible. It will all be decided during these next four days. I have to say there’s something about the final Group Stage match. What is it? The simultaneous play? The heat and pressure of qualifying? The sometimes thrilling moments of some games? Whatever it is, they will finalize all the Group Stage play of Euro 2012 and sports history will be paved from then on.