World Cup second round preview (part two)

June 28, 2010

Will Arjen Robben be fit to start?

ZM’s tactical preview of the second half of the World Cup second round ties, being played on Monday 28th and Tuesday 29th of June.

Holland v Slovakia

Which Slovakia will turn up? The team that lacked creativity and inspiration in their first two games, or the rejuvenated side which put out the former World Champions to progress to the knockout stages?

This looks like being a match-up of similar sides in terms of formations – 4-2-3-1 v 4-2-3-1 – but very different sides in terms of style. Holland look to play quick passes through the centre to get the ball to their creative players, whereas Slovakia’s best play has been through fairly basic hold-up play from Robert Vittek, who has scored three goals so far.

That is the immediate threat for the Dutch defence, and he’ll be supported by the excellent Marek Hamsik. With the Dutch playing two holding midfielders, Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel, he should be taken care of, probably by the former – van Bommel will look to track runs from the two Slovakian central midfielders.

Another key battle is in the Dutch left-back area, where Giovanni van Bronckhorst will find himself up against the pace of either Miroslav Stoch or Vladimir Weiss. At 35, van Bronckhorst can be troubled by direct wing play, and the Dutch will have to make sure they double up against Slovakia’s right-winger.

Going forward, the main question is in the left-wing position. Rafel van der Vaart looks to be out injured, Arjen Robben is not yet 100%, so Eljero Elia may get a rare start. Robin van Persie’s movement will also be key, both coming towards the play, and moving out to the flanks, Slovakia have conceded five goals so far, and it’s hard to imagine them keeping a clean sheet.

Brazil v Chile

Two of the most technically proficient and tactically exciting teams in the competition face one another in a fascinating battle. Brazil won both the qualification meetings between the two, with an aggregate score of 7-2 – despite having a player sent-off early on the second half of both games. Brazil is a nut that Marcelo Bielsa hasn’t yet cracked.

Luis Fabiano destroyed Chile in Santiago - he will be a key player again

Chile play ludicrously high up the pitch, attempting to play the entire game in the opposition half of the pitch. In theory, this suits Brazil’s counter-attacking style, as it gives them space to exploit, and the Robinho-Kaka-Fabiano triangle running at Chile’s defensive quartet is not a good prospect for the Chileans.

What Chile will be able to do is force Maicon and Michel Bastos back, with the use of their high wingers. The central striker will occupy Lucio and Juan, whilst Mati Fernandez will play around Melo and Gilberto. In that sense, they may only be dealing with four Brazil players in the defensive phase – although Maicon will surely take advantage of Brazil’s numerical supremacy at the back to motor on forward regardless.

Pressing will be the key to the game. Chile do it very, very well – but Brazil are such a hard team to press because of the use of two holding midfielders at the base of what often looks like a diamond midfield. Close them down, and you’re often leaving Kaka and Elano/Ramires/Alves free. A slightly more reserved pressing strategy might be seen from Bielsa’s side, because Brazil are one side that won’t be flustered in this regard.

The most obvious threat to Chile is Luis Fabiano. In Brazil’s 0-3 victory in Santiago, he tore the Chileans apart with his strength – scoring two goals and setting up the other for Robinho. Too add to the problem, Chile have two key defenders suspended – Gary Medel and Waldo Ponce. Marco Estrada is also out, but he probably would have been replaced by Carlos Carmona anyway.

The final question concerns which formation Chile will field. The 3-3-1-3 was so overrun in the previous games between the two, that a switch to the 4-2-1-3 would be not a huge surprise, though still unlikely.

Keisuke Honda is Japan's main threat

Paraguay v Japan

Control of the midfield will be an important factor in this game. Paraguay use three quite deep central midfielders to try and dominate possession, whilst Japan’s 4-1-4-1 system also lends itself to keeping the ball. That said, the teams will probably look to play in different styles. Japan will look to counter-attack at speed, Paraguay prefer a slower build-up.

The most important player may be Yuki Abe, Japan’s deep-lying midfielder. He may be the man that gets the most time on the ball to dictate play, and his disciplined will allow the rest of Japan’s midfield to attack and force back the Paraguayan midfield. This could be important, because Paraguay have sometimes appeared slightly disjointed, with a large gap between their midfielders and forwards.

Another key feature will be the attacking tendencies of the full-backs, and in turn, the defensive performances of the wide midfielders / wingers. This could turn out to be something of a stalemate in the centre of the pitch, and the side that involves the full-backs more in build-up play might perform better.

Spain v Portugal

Another wonderful tie between two good footballing sides with much in common; expect a focus on ball retention.

Both sides are rather unpredictable in terms of their starting formations. Spain will keep to their broad 4-2-3-1 they’ve used throughout the past couple of years, but the fitness of Fernando Torres is a cause for concern. He looked out-of-sorts against Chile in the final group game, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Vicente del Bosque revert to a system with David Villa upfront, supported by two more natural midfielders on the flanks.

Stopping Xavi will be Portugal's priority

Spain must maintain some width. Their first game against Switzerland was characterized by their two wide midfielders constantly looking to come inside when they received the ball. Portugal will play two wingers and make it difficult for Joan Capdevila and Sergio Ramos to support the midfield, and so Spain need to stretch the play in midfield to prevent the centre becoming too congested. Jesus Navas hasn’t completely convinced so far and looks unlikely to be used, so it may be simply a case of del Bosque instructing David Silva and/or Andres Iniesta to maintain a wide position more strictly. Portugal are more than happy to defend across the width of the penalty area, as they did against Brazil, so going around them will be a better bet than Spain’s usual strategy: to play through the defence.

Portugal’s formation will be a 4-3-3 that becomes a 4-5-1 when out of possession, but the composition of the side remains unclear – Carlos Queiroz has used 19 of his 20 outfield players so far. We can be sure that Eduardo, Carvalho, Alves, Coentrao, Meireles and Tiago will start in their usual positions, but the rest of the team is up for debate. Pedro Mendes or Pepe for the holding midfield role? Ronaldo on the wing, or as a striker? The flair of Simao, or the discipline of Duda? Queiroz is not a manager you trust to always make the right decision. A similar shape to the game against Brazil might be likely, with Ronaldo upfront alone.

Portugal’s aim will be to defend centrally, and stop Xavi playing. He will be surrounded by the Meireles-Tiago-Mendes/Pepe trio, so this might be easier than is often the case. Then, the responsibility of creating from central midfield will fall to Xabi Alonso – who is struggling to be fit. He’s had a decent tournament so far, but can look a little hampered when the rest of his side is playing so centrally – he likes to spread the play more than he’s done so far.

In all, despite the flair on show, you can imagine a fairly cagey game early on. Despite the tremendous passing abilities of the two midfields, we could well see a match where neither side have a natural No 10, and neither side have traditional wingers. Both sides have been more impressive at defending than attacking so far in the competition.

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