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Shape-shifting Dutch baffle W Cup opponents

Thursday, July 3, 2014
Brazil 2014
Netherlands’ Arjen Robben celebrates after the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between the Netherlands and Mexico at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza, Brazil, on June 29. The Netherlands won the match 2-1. AP Photo

RIO DE JANEIRO—The Netherlands has come from a goal down to win three of their four World Cup matches so far thanks in part to their swift system swaps. Louis van Gaal is largely relying on a 5-3-2 formation in Brazil, with two wing backs expected to push forward in quick-fire counter attacks. But the team has been reverting to the traditional Dutch attacking 4-3-3 system if it goes behind and Van Gaal also has what he calls “Plan B.”


Quarterfinal opponent Costa Rica will have to be nimble to keep up with the Dutch shape shifting when they meet Saturday in Salvador. The Dutch will have to rebuild their midfield after Nigel de Jong suffered a groin injury against Mexico that has put the rest of his World Cup in serious doubt.


De Jong sat on the touchline of the Dutch training ground Wednesday, ice strapped to his groin, doing some light stretches. A possible replacement, Leroy Fer, also only did light running as he recovers from a hamstring strain. Dirk Kuyt could be in contention to replace him in the midfield—he’s played almost everywhere else in two appearances at the World Cup.


Against Mexico, the versatile veteran started the game at left wing back in a 5-3-2 formation. When the Dutch went a goal down, Van Gaal switched him to right back in a 4-3-3 system. That produced pressure on Mexico but no goal, so Kuyt was pushed forward again to play as a center forward in “Plan B”—which was effectively a four-man front line of Arjen Robben on the right wing and Memphis Depay on the left pumping crosses into the penalty area for Kuyt and Klaas Jan Huntelaar to chase.


When that finally produced an 88th-minute goal for Wesley Sneijder, the team reverted back to 4-3-3 and, as they continued to press forward, Arjen Robben forced a penalty that Huntelaar converted for an unlikely win. “Yes, it was an escape. But in the second half...we created far more chances with 4-3-3 and Plan B,” Van Gaal said. “So we played three formations and it is a great compliment that players can immediately execute that, but we saw that against Australia, too.”


Sneijder, who finally scored his first goal of the World Cup against Mexico after notching five in South Africa four years ago, said the Dutch players are adaptable enough to execute Van Gaal’s plans. “It’s all about the team spirit and just to believe in it and go for it,” he said. “We are very confident so it’s good to come back after being 1-0 down.”


Dutch football purists lamented Van Gaal’s choice to use a 5-3-2 system ahead of the World Cup, saying it does not produce the free-flowing attacking football that earned the Netherlands a reputation as the Brazilians of European football. Van Gaal, who has long been a proponent of the 4-3-3 system used by great attacking Dutch teams in the past, defended his decision by arguing he does not have the players to play that way. Both sides of the argument seem to have been vindicated so far in Brazil. (AP)






Friday’s Matches
France v Germany, noon
Brazil v Colombia, 4 pm 



Brazil crash kills Argentine reporter’s daughter
BELO HORIZONTE—Argentina’s Football Association expressed its condolences for the death of 26-year-old Maria Soledad Fernandez, who was killed in a road accident while returning from a match on Tuesday in Sao Paulo to Belo Horizonte, where Argentina’s team is based. Striker Ezequiel Lavezzi also expressed condolences on Twitter.
Fernandez was in Brazil accompanying her father Miguel “Titi” Fernandez, a well-known TV personality in Argentina, who is covering the World Cup for Argentine public TV.



Ghana coach says he won’t    pick Boateng again
ACCRA—Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah says he will not call up Kevin-Prince Boateng in the future after their World Cup bust-up. Back home after Ghana’s elimination, Appiah says he will now only select players who are “disciplined, committed and ready to die for the country.” 
Forward Boateng was thrown out of the team camp ahead of its final group match at the World Cup for insulting Appiah during a training session. Midfielder Sulley Muntari was also sent home for hitting an official. 
Referring to the difficulty of “managing egos,” Appiah said yesterday “for now, Kevin-Prince Boateng is not part of my plans.”



Brazil investigates ticket scalping operation
SAO PAULO—Soccer’s world governing body says it is helping Brazil’s investigation of a ticket scalping ring believed to be re-selling World Cup tickets. 
Camila Donato is a press officer of the Rio de Janeiro police department. She says that police arrested 11 suspected ticket scalpers on Tuesday and seized tickets supplied by FIFA to sponsors, non-governmental organisations and members of the Brazilian squad’s technical commission. Donato says police are investigating the possible involvement of FIFA officials and members of the Brazilian, Argentine and Spanish football federations. She identified the leader of the ring as Algerian Mohamadou Lamine Fofana. The other 10 men are Brazilians.



Brazil police use stun grenades on Word Cup fans
SAO PAULO—Police in Brazil’s biggest city say they used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse thousands of soccer fans raucously celebrating Argentina’s 1-0 World Cup victory over Switzerland. A Sao Paulo police department press officer says the partying by close to 3,000 people—mostly Argentines—began Tuesday afternoon in Sao Paulo’s trendy neighbourhood of Vila Madalena and only ended early yesterday morning, “when we were called in to disperse the crowd that had gotten too rowdy.” (AP)


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