Holland have played the best so far.
Holland have the best allround midfield in the competion.
Russia will beat Holland.
Playing Russia will be a shock almost and so completely different from the matches they've played so far. What worked so brilliantly for Holland against teams like Italy and France won't work as well against Russia.
Only Spain pass the ball around better than Russia and I'm not sure how well Holland can react to that.
In some ways it feels strange writing this because of the praise I placed upon them after they destroyed Italy and France.
I fully stand by that I think they have the best allround midfield in the competition.
But this is just one of those rare cases where allround talent comes short.
The dutch midfield have very good defensive attributes and they have very good attacking attributes, but the problem is that against an opponent as unique as this one, one of those needs to be at an even higher level, and then it wouldn't even hurt their chances much if the other half was a level below.
Russia are so good with the ball,that I feel that having the on paper perfect balance just puts you in danger. There is nothing that can truly match Russia's passing onslaught.
Not an even BETTER passing game like Spain had and not great defensive organization like say Italy from the World Cup.
One of those are what can gain an edge against Russia and the Dutch for all their overall quality have neither.
I think to gain a significant edge Van Basten has to do something very drastic yet for a Dutch side also very natural.
The alternative is creating a strictly counter attacking scheme which they might be forced to do anyway depending on how the game develops, but since they without a doubt are a naturally attacking team, I don't think the edge they would gain by that is as solid as if they shifted their balance even further forward.
Rinus Michel are you diggin this?
I touched upon this in the "Holland march on" entry when I wrote in great detail about their midfield and finding room for players such as Robben and Van Persie, but I didn't really realise at the time that what I was basically suggesting was a great comeback for the classic dutch 4-3-3.
I think it would match up very well against Russia, and probably give them similar control to what Spain had when they beat Russia. When Russia are not in control using their fluid passing and triangle combinations, historically they collapse.
As we saw against Spain not even Hiddink has been able to change that.
In many ways what I suggest is something that's so opposite of everything that appears on the surface yet it is so logical and makes perfect sense. Especially for a Dutch team.
Go back to the 4-3-3 and everything will be fine. Fight fire with fire.
In this article http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/sport/2008/06/20/hiddink_rekindles_the_dormant.html by the Guardian's Jonathan Wilson he writes about among other things Russia's history with "total football" and remember, how did Holland beat Russian total football in a big match the last time?
The 1988 final facing a great Soviet team playing very similar to what we're seeing now. with breathtaking passing and control.
They fought fire with fire and their even better individual players, including of course Van Basten, came through.
That's similar to now as well. There is no doubt overall that Holland have better players but without shifting their balance, preferable forward beating Russia at their own game, there is a good chance that won't come through. It will be a game playing to the Russian's strenghts and not the Dutch.
The same would probably have been the case in 1988 if Holland had gone for the allround balance they're going for now, instead of the 4-3-3 eventually overwhelming Russia.
Now It's hard to see Van Basten actually do this. Changing back to their good old 4-3-3 I just think will feel like taking a step back for him and something that could ruin all the progress he is seeing. That we're all seeing.
After all he is the one who has stood firm and ignored all the usual cries for it to be brought back, and is now finally showing that Holland can succeed without it.
My theory is just that this game is so completely different from any of the group matches that what may have been working so perfectly in those games might not now, and in this particualar game it's the 4-3-3 that would work the best.
Of course with these kinds of bold predictions I have to throw in a little disclaimer.
Eventhough I do think Russia has the best chance to win, unless Van Basten pulls the 4-3-3 rabbit out of the hat, Holland are so good and have so many good players that they're by no means out of it.
And being very good in all areas obviously is never a bad thing. In this particular case you just might need to upgrade certain areas over others.
But point is that up front with the flawless execution so far, Holland can hurt any team and that of course includes Russia.
That's the luxury of having these great players.
Even if they're not able to enforce their strenghts on the opposition as a team, there is still enough talent to make the difference,(almost) on their own.