Having picked the Netherlands to win this game in our predictions thread, it’d be nice to be able to gloat on this one. But those of us who picked the Dutch were lucky, not right; Brazil lost this game thanks to a mental meltdown no one could’ve predicted.
Brazil dominated the first half. Robinho’s opening goal was simplistic excellence — he split the central defenders, took a pass right on his feet and stroked it home. Holland was on its heels the rest of the first 45, unable to build any attack or keep hold of the ball. Brazil could’ve easily had a 2 or 3 goal lead by halftime, particularly if Kaka’s impression of the Luis Suarez winner for Uruguay last round hadn’t been tipped away by the sparkling van Stekelenburg in net.
Then the gods took a dump in the brigadeiros.
Most days, Felipe Melo doesn’t knock in an own-goal past the helpless Julio Cesar. In fact, Brazil had never given up an own-goal in the entire history of the World Cup. So that was unusual.
Most days, Wesley Sneijder doesn’t head in a corner for a goal. In fact, after the game, the diminutive Sneijder said it was the first time in his life he’d scored a header, that “it just went off his bald head” and in. So that was unusual.
Most days, Felipe Melo doesn’t stomp the leg of one of the game’s great dramatic actors, Arjen Robben. I can’t say Melo never gets hit with red, but had he not been saddled with the guilt of an own-goal, this wouldn’t have occurred, either.
That, friends, is a one-in-one-thousand recipe for an upset. There are other ways the Dutch could’ve come out ahead, but this particular brew was especially rare.
Brazilian coach Dunga has been a target of scorn since being handed the reins, and now that one of his choices, Felipe Melo, was the goat of the entire tournament thus far, expect him to be handed his walking papers. Brazil’s next coach will probably be someone with a cartoonish love of the attacking game to wash the defensive mentality from the mouths of the squad. I still think they had the right idea with this team, tightening up the back and letting explosive players like Robinho and Kaka loose on the break. But I suppose when your team gives up one mistake goal and then suddenly can’t find anyone but Dutch players with their passes, starts fouling obviously and petulantly, and ultimately winds up at 10 men with over 20 minutes left in the game, the coach bears plenty of responsibility for that collapse. How could Brazil lose themselves so completely?
And poor Felipe Melo. Will he ever be able to set foot in Brazil again? If anyone’s grateful that Dunga will be the fall guy, maybe it’s Melo; how else could he escape the full wrath of a Brazil fan base that still obsesses over a loss from 60 years ago?
We haven’t talked much about the Netherlands, but that reflects the nature of this game — the first half was all about Brazil dictating terms, the second was all about them falling to pieces. Around them, the Dutch played up and down. They were lost, then buoyed by the fluke, then playing up a storm on all the obnoxious fouls by Brazil. Sneijder and Kuyt were good, Robben failed to impress, and van Stekelenburg kept his team in the game early on. But when Brazil had its head on straight, they were dominant, and I think they win this game 7 of 10 times or more.
But not this game, not this day. And now the Netherlands finds themselves favorites to advance to the finals.