So, the US is out of the World Cup. It sucks, to be sure, but there are lots of other reasons to stay tuned to the action in South Africa. Many of my 18 reasons still hold true, not the least of which is skipping out of work tomorrow to watch the first two quarterfinal games.
Brazil - Netherlands - Friday, 10AM ET
My Take: David vs. Goliath, sort of
Can the greatest also-rans in World Cup history (the Dutch) knock off the winningest nation in World Cup history (Brazil)? In nine World Cup appearances, Holland has only failed to make it out of their group twice, the last time being in 1938. They've gotten knocked out in the Round of 16 twice, the quarterfinals twice, and the semifinals once. In 1974 and 1978 they made it to two consecutive finals with one of greatest teams in the history of soccer and lost both games (to host nations Germany and Argentina, respectively). Brazil has won the World Cup a record five times and has qualified for every World Cup (including the 2014 edition). They are perennially the team to beat in the World Cup and have been since the 60's.
In actuality, the Netherlands aren't that much of a David in any other way than their record. They went undefeated in their qualifying campaign, boast one of the most potent attacks in Europe, and are on a 23 game unbeaten streak. Brazil is, of course, Brazil. They don't really play the jogo bonito like they used to. Now they big, athletic, organized, and balance a tight defense with a killer counter attack. They can still break out the flair and style that made them world-wide fan favorites, but its not an integral part of their game
How they got here
Both teams won their groups. Holland did it winning all three of their games while Brazil won two and then drew Portugal in their third. Holland knocked out an tough Slovakian side 2-1 in their last game and Brazil spanked Chile 3-0, who had been one of the most exciting sides of the tournament.
Two things to watch for
Will the Dutch wingers be able to dominate, or will the Brazilian fullbacks shine through? Holland's wingers play high up on the field. If Robben and Kuyt can be dangerous enough to keep Maicon and Bastos hemmed in and unable to open up space in the attach, the Dutch can throw a big monkey wrench into Dunga's game plan. Conversely, if the Netherlands concede the high ground and the Brazilian fullbacks are allowed to wreak havoc in the final third, the Dutch defense will be hard pressed to hold up.
Can the Dutch defensive midfield pairing of de Jong and van Bommel shut down Brazil's counter attack? The Dutch duo will be tasked with negating a nigh unstoppable Brazillian attack led by Kaka. They need to be ready to support a Dutch back line that looked a little shaky in their game against Slovakia when Brazil break down the field.
2 - 2. The Netherlands advance on penalty kicks. The Dutch attacking quartet of Kuyt, Robben, Van Persie and Snyder run rampant on the Brazillian back line for two goals in the first half. Brazil pulls one back on the counter and then off a corner at the end of regulation time. A grueling 30 minutes of overtime keeps the scoreline at 0-0. Holland ices all of their penalties, but Lucio skies the final kick for Brazil over the bar and devours Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenberg in a fit of rage. In the most spectacular post-match spectacle ever, a weeping Ricky Kaka is swept up into the sky upon a flaming chariot that is suspiciously emblazoned with the Nike swoosh.
Uruguay - Ghana - Friday, 2:30PM
My Take: The has-been versus the last hope
Can Uruguay recapture past glory or will Ghana keep the hopes of an entire continent alive? Uruguay have won the World Cup twice. Not too shabby a record, but the problem is their trophy was in 1950. For the later half of the twentieth century they seemed to be on a downward spiral and failed to either qualify or make if out of their group since 1994. A win tomorrow could take them back to their glory days, putting them in the semi-finals for the first time since 1970.
For Ghana, is only competing in their second World Cup. Their first appearance was four short years ago in Germany where they beat out the US and the Czech Republic in their group, only to get whooped by Brazil three to nil in the in the knock-out round. Now, they are in the quarterfinals for the first time and are the last African team left in the first ever tournament to be held in Africa. Now, if the popular narrative is to be believed, they're carrying the hopes of an entire continent on their shoulders.
How they got here
Ghana made it out of a very tough Group D, with one win, one draw, and one loss against Serbia, Australia, and Germany, respectively. They knocked out the US in the Round of 16 in extra time. Uruguay went undefeated in their group, beating Mexico and South Africa and drawing France. They defeated a well organized South Korean side in the Round of 16.
Things to watch for
Can Asmoah Gyan continue to put the ball in the back of the net for Ghana? Gyan have scored three of Ghana's four goals and is emerging as a world class striker, but Uruguay boast a stout back line that have only conceded one goal thus far. If Uruguay can neutralize Gyan, Ghana could have a hard time finding other scoring options.
Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez have been the striking pair of the tournament and not only score goals, but also generate a substantial amount of Uruguay's offense. Can Ghana's speedy centerback pair of Mensah and Mensah find a way to neutralize them? If given any time on the ball or a look at goal the two could punish Ghana very quickly.
2-0, Uruguay. Ghana put up a tough defensive fight, pressing Uruguay high for possession and coming close to scoring more than once. Uruguay looks to be on the ropes as they head in for halftime, 0-0. As the second half wears on, cracks begin to appear in the Black Stars defense and Uruguay begins to dominate possession. Forlan and then Suarez each bag a goal apiece in the second half. In a last minute act of desparation, Ghana attempts to sub on German internaitonal and half-brother to Kevin-Prince Boateng, Jerome Boateng. In their defense of the heinous act, the coaching staff claims to have been confused by having two pairs of players that share the same last name, but yet aren't related.