Holland heap misery on Brazil with World Cup third-place play-off win
A third-minute penalty from Robin van Persie set Holland on their way to a 3-0 victory over Brazil in the World Cup third-place play-off in Brasília.
Wilful cruelty, needless indignity or sheer torture? Luiz Felipe Scolari and his Brazil players could take their pick after finding the third-place play-off anything but a road to redemption. Instead, a second stumble in the space of a week ensured they headed off into highly uncertain futures with the jeers of the Brasília public ringing in their ears.
Even victory would have provided a mere fig leaf of respectability, a modicum of consolation, in the wake of Tuesday night’s 7-1 humbling at German hands, but such a Brazilian win was never on the agenda. It never deserved to be either; not on the day Louis van Gaal signed off as the over-achieving coach of Holland with a supremely controlled triumph that left his players clutching a bronze medal apiece.
Holland were ahead inside three minutes. Thiago Silva is supposed to be Brazil’s most reliable defender but, when he hauled down Arjen Robben, the centre-half conceded a penalty and was extremely fortunate to be shown only a yellow, rather than a red, card. If there can be no doubt Robben was denied a clear goalscoring opportunity, Silva’s separate – possibly legitimate – argument that contact had occurred marginally outside the area fell on deaf ears.
Unconcerned that the defender should, arguably, have been sent off and a free-kick awarded instead, Robin van Persie stepped forward to the 12-yard spot. Although the goalkeeper, Júlio César, guessed correctly, the Manchester United striker’s penalty, struck into the top right-hand corner, was far too good for him. It was Van Persie’s fourth goal of the tournament.
Van Gaal had made it abundantly clear he would much rather have headed straight to Manchester, to begin his new job in charge at Old Trafford, after Holland’s defeat by Argentina, on penalties, on Wednesday night. He has long lobbied for the abolition of this most unnecessary, totally meaningless fixture, but even he was smiling when his side doubled their advantage. This time, Jonathan de Guzmán – a last-minute replacement for Wesley Sneijder, who pulled a hamstring during the warm up – connected with Robben’s short pass. De Guzmán lobbed a cross into the box, where David Luiz looked well place to clear. Instead – displaying a spectacular lack of spatial awareness – he headed the ball straight into the path of the unmarked Daley Blind. The Brazil centre-half’s “blind spot” duly revealed, Blind skilfully directed the ball into the roof of the net from 12 yards out. Have Paris Saint-Germain really paid Chelsea £50m for David Luiz?
With his former Stamford Bridge colleagues Willian and, particularly, Oscar, proving Brazil’s only real bright sparks, it was small wonder Scolari looked so woebegone in the technical area.
Clearly, the decision to dress the injured Neymar in full kit and seat him on the bench was failing to have the desired talismanic effect, and Scolari’s mind surely wandered to an all-important meeting with Brazil FA officials, scheduled for late on Saturday night.
Judging by the reaction of the crowd in Brasília, there seems to be a consensus that the fans want Scolari sacked.
Perhaps surprisingly, those same supporters greeted Brazil’s players with unexpected warmth – even if such generosity of spirit appeared to be wearing a little thin as the first half unravelled.
True, many performed an ironic Mexican wave after the second goal went in, but being merely 2-0 down at half-time was not exactly the improvement they –and Scolari – had hoped for in the wake of Tuesday night’s calamity. Accordingly, the worryingly slow and shapeless South Americans were booed off at the interval, Paulinho’s bowed head reflecting his alarming lack of involvement. Did he actually touch the ball?
Blind was taken off on a stretcher in the second half after a painful collision of knees with Oscar, which might have brought a Brazil penalty, but, in reality, prefaced a yellow card for the Chelsea player.
Oscar and friends strove for at least one goal, but Ron Vlaar had very different ideas, the Aston Villa defender proving a formidable human shield before Georginio Wijnaldum met substitute Daryl Janmaat’s cross and swept in a late third goal.
“Losing 7-1 was the worst result in history but I have to see the positive side of things,” Scolari said. “In 2006 we didn’t finish in the final four and neither did we in 2010. In a year-and-a-half we have reached the last four of the World Cup and won the Confederations Cup.
“We have to be optimistic. Today I don’t think it was a bad match. There is nothing I can criticise the players for.”
Van Gaal did not have a bad word to say about his players, saying: “I hope that the group in Manchester will become like this one. We have to start singing from the same hymn sheet.”
Holland exited stage left with heads held high; if only Brazil could say the same.
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