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: 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: 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!
Well it’s getting closer and closer. We’re down to the last four countries standing. Tuesday and Wednesday will decide Sunday’s finalists for the World Cup. It’s a pair of interesting pairings as both look like rematches of a World Cup final from the past. And in both cases, both teams have played each other well to give a sign who has the advantage. So without further ado, I’ll look into the two semifinals and make my predictions.
SEMIFINAL #1 – BRAZIL vs. GERMANY
Brazil and Germany have played each other 21 times. Brazil has won 12 of those times, Germany 4 and drawn 5 times. They have played each other only once in the World Cup: in the 2002 Final which Brazil won 2-0. Brazil has scored 39 total goals against Germany and Germany has scored 24 against Brazil.
Brazil: Oh yes, the pressures of being the host nation. Many times it’s been a plus as six host nations would go on to win the World Cup. However it can backfire and sometimes the host nation can miss. Even teams like Italy and Germany that have won World Cups in the past–even once before as host country– would miss. Brazil has performed very well in play and has delivered stellar wins such as 3-1 against Croatia and 4-1 against Cameroon. They have also shown their weak side with a 0-0 draw against Mexico and a 1-1 draw against Chile where they advanced after penalty kicks.
Their most recent match-up against Colombia ended with a good win of 2-1 but it was not without incident as Neymar had been injured terribly in the back. He was even carried of in a stretcher and is currently hospitalized at his home near Sao Paulo. Doctors say his spinal cord is broken but he is expected to make a full recovery within six weeks. They also said had it been an inch higher, he would have been paralyzed permanently. Not to mention Thiago Silva amassing two yellow cards and out of the semifinal.
With Neymar out and recovering and Thiago Silva sitting the semi out, Brazil is trying to get its team ready against Germany. Even Sports Illustrated have spoken about what Brazil needs to do. Brazil will face more pressure to win but it’s not to say they don’t have what it takes to do it. They have David Luiz, Hulk and Fred still active on their team. However David Luiz knows that he will have to step up his defense. Also coach Scolari knows he will have to make a wise choice for a replacement for Neymar. On a positive side, Brazil did demonstrate its defense after Neymar was injured and taken off with impressive results. So it shows it can be done.
Germany: Germany keeps on adding to their record of consistency. Their semifinal appearance here makes it their thirteenth time in their eighteen World Cup appearances they’ve cracked the Top 4. The biggest surprise of it all is that despite Germany’s consistency, they’re one of the least celebrated great teams of the World Cup. Sure, you’ll walk down the street and see a lot of people wearing jerseys of Brazil, Italy, England, Argentina, Portugal, Netherlands and Colombia most of the time but how often do you see one wearing a Germany jersey?
Even now Germany continues to perform well and their achievements go quietly. Thomas Muller scored a hat trick against Portugal but that received less mention than the two-pointers from Neymar, Lionel Messi and James Rodriguez. Some may feel that it’s a bad thing but others, like possibly some Germans, may not feel that way. We shouldn’t forget that Germany has one of the most closely knit teams. Most of the players are less interested in individual glory and more interested in making wins happen. People like Muller, Miroslav Klose, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger may have what it takes to be stars of the team but they’re top interest is playing.
Their unity as a team has paid off here in Brazil. They won 4-1 against Portugal and 1-0 against the United States. However it’s not to say they’ve had some strugglers here too. They did draw 2-2 against Ghana and had to go into extra time against Algeria after remaining scoreless in regulation. They did however win 2-1 in extra time. However a 1-0 win against France puts their chances of winning the World Cup, if not against Brazil, in question.
The German team appear confident after knowing of Neymar’s injury. Many people have already predicted Germany will win this match because of both Neymar’s injury and Thiago Silva’s expulsion. However it’s too soon to assume things. Brazil has won games before without their best players. Nevertheless this is a golden opportunity for Germany to seize.
My Verdict: Okay. This is a tough call since things can go either way. Some people will think this is a risky call for me but I’ll call it anyways. I think Brazil will win 1-0 in extra time. Brazil has performed well without their best players at times–heck, they won the 1962 World Cup while Pele was sidelined with injuries– but I’m confident they have what it takes to do it and a strong coach like Scolari to lead the way. Also let’s hope the spectators make it there safe and sound after the news of the freeway collapse in Belo Horizonte on Saturday that left two dead and 23 injured. One trivia note: whoever wins will set a World Cup record for the most finals appearances with eight.
SEMIFINAL #2 – ARGENTINA vs. NETHERLANDS
Head-To-Head Stuff: Argentina and the Netherlands have squared off against each other eight times in the past including three times during World Cup matches including the 1978 final for the Cup. Argentina was host that year and won in extra time 3-1. Surprisingly this was the only time Argentina has defeated the Netherlands. The Netherlands have won four times including a 1998 World Cup rematch in the quarterfinals 2-1 and there have been three draws. Netherlands has scored 13 goals against Argentina while Argentina have scored six against the Dutch.
Argentina: Argentina have not played as spectacularly as they have been known to do. They have won all their games but all their wins have been at a margin of just one goal: 2-1 against Bosnia, 1-0 against Iran, 3-2 against Nigeria, 1-0 against Switzerland and 1-0 against Belgium. Already this makes it the fifth time Argentina has made it as far as the Top 4 at the World Cup. This is especially relief for them since the last time they made it past the quarterfinals was back in 1990. Argentina has been known to have a spectacular flavor about them but it appears missing this time around. One thing that is not missing is spectacular play from Lionel Messi. He came as one of the superstars with high expectations and he has delivered with a total of four goals and even delivered excellent supporting play. There has also been excellent supporting play from Gonzalo Higuain.
Here in Brazil, Argentina will have to pick up their game if they want to win. Sure, conservative play has paid off in the past like for Spain at the last World Cup. However it can be a risk as who knows how much the opposing team can score. And the Netherlands already delivered a big win with 5-1 against Spain. If Argentina want to have their first win against the Netherlands since the 1978 World Cup final, they have to pick it up and have all their players deliver more than what they delivered in the past.
Netherlands: The Netherlands is considered by many the greatest team never to have won the World Cup. Three times the bridesmaid including the last World Cup, never the bride. Before this World Cup, not much was expected of Oranje. They had a disappointing Euro 2012 and they appeared like they hadn’t proven any improvements. However Louis van Gaal had a message to send the world. The team had already been made up of a lot of young players–nine of which were born in the 1990’s–and had top veterans like Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. Boy did they prove a lot starting with their 5-1 win over defending cupholders Spain, a 3-2 win over Australia and a 2-0 win over Chile. They also continued well with a 2-1 win over Mexico in the Round of 16. Their 11 goals have made them the top scoring team of the Cup so far with both Robben and van Persie scoring three goals each and 20 year-old Memphis Depay a strong favorite for the Cup’s Young Player award.
However with all their spectacular play, they were given a reality check when they drew 0-0 against Costa Rica in regulation. Much to the teams relief, they won the penalty shootout 4-3 after substituting goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul. If the Netherlands want to win en route to their fourth World Cup final, they should not rely on the facts that they’ve beaten Argentina more often. They should know Argentina can deliver when they have to. Also Argentina is better conditioned than the Netherlands at playing in the hot climates as seen in many games this World Cup.
My Verdict: I have to go with Argentina on this with the score 2-1. They haven’t been as spectacular as the Netherlands but they’ve been showing a lot of team unity and have delivered whenever they’ve had to. Also they know how to play hot weather better than the Netherlands.
Well that wraps up another set of predictions. I like how a lot of you like the predictions I’ve been making with the Group Stage and the first knockout games. All that’s left to predict is the final. Stay tuned Friday.