Slovakia and the Netherlands will face off in a Round of 16 match that almost no one expected to see. Still riding high of their epic upset of Italy, Slovakia enters the match with high hopes and an optimistic outlook. The Netherlands, despite winning all three of their Group E matches have yet to hit their stride and are playing with high expectations and enormous pressure. The match might turn out better than most expect however, with the gutsy Slovaks putting up a strong fight against the Dutch.
How they got here:
Slovakia took the unlikeliest of paths to the second round. They drew 1-1 with New Zealand on a heartbreaking header by Winston Reid after the game appeared to be all but won for Slovakia. Next they stumbled against a strong Paraguay side, losing 2-0 in a game where they looked flat and uninspired. Needing to beat Italy, in order to advance, Slovakia did just that, sending the defending world champions packing. The game, which was a thriller and became an instant classic, saw 5 goals, 3 of them in the last 10 minutes.
The Netherlands took a more direct route to the Round of 16, winning all three of their group games. They disposed of Denmark 2-0, brushed aside Japan 1-0, and finished off an already-eliminated/all0butleliminated Cameroon 2-1. However, they won the group quite quietly and never looked really spectacular in any match.
Unlike Italy, who also started slow, the Netherlands have the ability to focus and elevate their form, which I believe they’ll do in Monday’s game. They’re roster is a list of European all-stars with van Persie, Robben, Kuyt, Sneijder, van Bommel, van Bronckhorst. Although it’s possible that the starting lineup could be without Robben and van Pierse. Manager Bert van Marwijk hinted that Robben could start on the bench while van Pierse pull out of training Saturday with an ankle injury. If Robben does feature in the match however, he could lift the Oranje out of their funk. The Bayern Munich striker came on late in the their win over Cameroon, and brought an immediate lift, banging a shot off the bar that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar put in for their second goal.
Slovakia have the luxury of entering the game with nothing to lose and a certain bit of historical momentum behind them. “We didn’t have anything to lose because no one expected us to beat Italy, they had all the pressure,” said Miroslav Stoch. “It will be similar against the Dutch because they have to win, they are expected to win, and the pressure will be on them.” This lack of pressure will allow the Repre to play loose while the Netherlands are under great pressure not only to win but to play with flair and beauty. Slovakia also have a slight historical statistical advantage. The Netherlands have two wins, six losses and one draw against Czechoslovakia historically, and although that doesn’t really mean much in 2010, perhaps the Slovak’s have will have the Netherlands number. Plus, the Netherlands have a history of coming up short, bowing out of the Round of 16 in two of the last four World Cups they’ve competed in. All of these things could come together at the right time, allowing the Repre to sneak a win out of the match.
News and Notes
One face most Dutch fans will be familiar with is Miroslav Stoch’s. The 20-year-old winger spent all of last season at Dutch outfit FC Twente where he scored 10 league goals and helped lead the team to a league title.
The Repre will be without holding midfielder Zdeno Strba who picked up two yellow cards during group play. This is a blow to Slovakia as Strba had a strong performance at holding midfielder in their upset over Italy. Look for Kamil Kopunek to start in his place. Also, Juraj Kucka and Jan Durica did not train Saturday morning, but it’s not believed that they will miss Monday’s match. Weiss has gone with a different starting XI in each of Slovakia’s three group F matches. I believe he’ll field a lineup similar to Monday’s, except with Kopunek starting in place of Strba.
I think the match will be closer than most expect. The Netherlands will score first, but Robert Vittek will equalize in the second half. But the Oranje attack will be too much for the Netherlands and Arjen Robben will net the game-winner late in the second half.