The 3 PM ET game today is my runaway pick--and probably for a lot of others as well--for Match of the Day. It's not too often you get a first-round matchup between the defending Cup finalists, but it's what we get today.
My heart is with the Dutch. It'd be nice to throw some actual chaos into this tournament early on, as Croatia teased some craziness yesterday by taking an early lead on host Brazil, yet couldn't hang on…dang it.
Some thoughts on today's game at Salvador:
Dutch striker Arjen Robben has maintained their 1-0 loss in extra time to Spain in the 2010 final is affixed on the shelves of history, and today is not about revenge.
My take: Robben is doing the right thing by saying that, demonstrating a forward-facing mentality. It's just that he lies: All of the Orange Army wants revenge.
There is all the promise of a hard-tackling game much like the 2010 final which saw thirteen yellow cards and one red. Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal might hold the swing factor here based on pre-game decisions. He's considering playing five defenders as a way to throw a monkey wrench into Spain's passing precision. It's a great idea--worlds away from the attacking Dutch teams of the past--but despite the coach's élan, players still need to make plays.
Spain is the money team, but as we saw from Brazil's mostly somnambulant play for much of yesterday, it's not guaranteed they'll come out with all guns blazing. If Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, and Sergio Busquets can utilize their "death by a thousand paper cuts" passing game to set up some deadly strikes, this game could be less than a classic.
My call is a close game, possibly a one-goal win for the Spaniards, but the Dutch will let them know they've been in a game. And all Robben needs is a sliver of daylight to make a difference. Regardless, we should see both Spain and the Netherlands push through to the round of 16.
Enjoy the game!