Just days after very different kinds of agonizing World Cup semifinal defeats, Brazil and the Netherlands will have to somehow pick themselves up for one last match before departing. The third place playoff has questionable merits as a contest, but there will be particular attention on it this time around to see just how Brazil, and its, public, recover from the most ignominious defeat in the history of the country with more World Cup triumphs than any other.
After a shambolic 7-1 loss to Germany that exposed the meager foundations upon which the team’s quest to lift the trophy for the first time on home soil had been built and decades-long failings in the country’s national game, everyone involved would surely have wanted to slink off and lick their wounds. Instead they must face the music in the nation’s capital, Brasilia.
Throughout this World Cup, Brazil had relied on emotion-fuelled intensity to pull them through. It was a similar scenario in last year’s victorious Confederations Cup, but this time around there has been nothing beyond that. Crucially any hint of midfield solidity has been absent. Together with an inability to control the game, due to the country’s failure to produce quality passing midfielders, it has been a fatal combination. When the intensity dropped, tactical, cynical and all-too often brutal fouling was the approach. Unlike neighbors Chile and Colombia, which were intimidated physically and psychologically, Germany saw through the facade and crudely cut the hosts to shreds.
With the bubble of their emotional wave now burst in the most astonishing way imaginable, it is a huge task for coach Luiz Felipe Scolari -- told to go to hell by one Brazilian newspaper and who will surely be going to look for a new job imminently -- to lift his squad. Scolari has claimed there was no need for major overhaul going forward and that 13 or 14 of the current squad would be present in Russia in four years’ time. And the team’s lineup in training surprisingly suggests changes will be few and far between against the Netherlands.
Were that not to be the case, Marcelo and David Luiz, who embodied the complete recklessness and heart triumphing over head nature of Brazil’s play could be taken out of the firing line. That looks likely to happen with Fernandinho, whose mistakes led to two of Germany’s four goals in an incredible six minute spell. Thankfully for Scolari, he can welcome back key defender and captain Thiago Silva, whose absence for suspension was painfully felt. Neymar, of course, remains sidelined.
The match promises to be equally difficult for Brazil’s opponents. In contrast to Brazil’s, the Netherlands’ semifinal loss was by the slimmest of margins, but still was no less painful. A defeat on penalties to Argentina means the Netherlands will remain, for at least another four years, the greatest soccer power not to have won the World Cup.
Coach Louis van Gaal had no hesitation in calling the third place game “a match that should never be played,” and that the “one award that counts is becoming world champions.” The 62-year-old, who will take over at Manchester United immediately following the tournament, is also aggrieved that his side will have a day’s less rest, especially after playing for more than 120 minutes.
Having admitted that he is still unsure over the physical state of several players, Van Gaal is likely to make several changes to his lineup, especial Having made a surprisingly speedy recovery from a groin injury to last an hour against Argentina, Nigel de Jong may sit this one out. The same could be the case for Robin van Persie, who was battling a stomach complaint ahead of the semifinal and has been off form throughout the knockout phase. Jordy Clasie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar could get their first starts of the tournament.
Perhaps it will be easier for the Netherlands to lift themselves for the match, given their expectations, at least externally, coming into the tournament were far less than those of Brazil’s. Indeed, Van Gaal deserves much credit for leading a thin squad, containing a large number of players yet to prove themselves at the top level, to the last four.
G: Julio Cesar
D: Maicon, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo
M: Ramires, Paulinho, Luiz Gustavo
D: De Vrij, Veltman, Bind
M: Janmaat, Wijnaldum, Clasie, Kuyt
F: Robben, Huntelaar, Depay
This match could really go any number of ways depending on the mental states of the two sets of players, which players are selected and how much importance each coach attaches to finishing the World Cup with a win and the token consolation of third place. One thing that is safer to predict is that there will be goals. No third place playoff has had less than three goals since 1974. With the consequences of failure reduced, it is easy to see why that is the case. Ultimately it may come down to Brazil’s greater desire to win to avoid further recriminations from their public that sees them come out on top against what could be an inexperienced Dutch side.
Brazil 2-1 Netherlands
When and where: The 2014 World Cup third place playoff will kick off from the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia at 4 p.m. ET.