Brazil vs the Netherlands: Saturday 9pm
On paper this is a game in which both teams can restore a bit of pride for their nations. Both these sides will be bitterly disappointed with the manner in which they crashed out their respective semi-finals. The Netherlands, on the one hand, lost on penalties after a dour 120 minutes with no goals and barely a chance of note. Their fans will be furious that at no point their team really tried to go and get a goal, with Van Persie offering nothing and Robben below his usual high standards. Brazil, on the other hand, were well and truly mauled by Germany who fired 7 past Julio Cesar. It was a shambolic performance from the hosts, with their whole team looking as if they’d never played with each other before. If truth be told, neither side will particularly want to play this match and would much rather trudge home. Sadly for them, that is not an option and both sides will be keen to avoid further humiliation before leaving the competition.
Whatever the result of this match, the Netherlands have surpassed expectations in this tournament. They were superb in the group stages and claimed the maximum 9 points from a group containing both Spain and Chile, but they looked to have run out of steam in their last game. They do not have the strength in depth when compared with the likes of Germany; reaching the semi-finals signals a good performance for them. Brazil will be disappointed but they were always up against it without their two most important players in Neymar and Thiago Silva and facing a terrifyingly strong German side. However, that is still no excuse for losing by 6 goals, a game that will go down as one of the greatest embarrassments in World Cup history.
It remains to be seen whether either side opts to experiment with the rest of their squad or whether they stick to the players that served them well in reaching the semi-final stage. The Netherlands are in the easier position in this regard. Despite not playing at their best, they were only narrowly defeated in a shootout by the Argentines and although the loss will be painful, they will be in far superior mental place than the heavily wounded Brazilians. Scolari has some really important decisions to make. Does he give the 11 who were humbled by the Germans another chance with the risk of a similar thrashing from the Dutch? Or will he give some peripheral squad members the opportunity to shine and prove that they are deserving of a chance in future international competitions. The Brazilians do have players with top-level experience in reserve such as Dani Alves, Maxwell, Ramires, Hernanes and Willian, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see all five make an appearance. Scolari will also almost certainly recall the suspended Thiago Silva, which should hopefully bring some organisation to their defence. The Netherlands are less blessed with depth in their squad, but the likes of Memphis Depay, Jeremain Lens and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar could be given an opportunity.
Regardless of the squad selections, I feel Brazil will come out on top in this encounter. This is largely down to the fact that it will be a more important game for them to win to save some face after the complete and utter humiliation suffered at the hands of the Germans. Their fans will be desperate to see a positive performance and show of character from their team to prove that while they may be down, they can come back stronger from this set back. The game will be more open for the Netherlands than it was against Argentina and they will expect to score but Brazil should have enough to seal victory in front of their home fans.
Prediction: Brazil 2-1 Netherlands