Brazil versus the Netherlands today is a match-up fit for a Final and would have made a worthy climax to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Instead, the two teams will face off in the Play-off for Third Place, with both eager to restore a little pride after the heartbreak of their semi-final defeats.
The hosts, in particular, slipped to an unprecedented loss, losing focus in a punishing 7-1 reverse at the hands of Germany. For the record five-time champions and the nation that still exports a constant stream of talent, it was a painful end to their mission to erase memories of the 1950 Maracanazo on home soil. The watching world could only look on and wonder what had happened to the side that once enjoyed a surfeit of football artists admired across the globe. Missing the injured Neymar, billed as successor to the likes of Pele, Zico, Romario, Rivaldo and Ronaldo, A Seleção simply fell to pieces against Joachim Low’s men. Captain Thiago Silva will aim to steady the ship after returning from suspension, however, and he hopes to give Brazil’s crestfallen supporters something to smile about again with the small consolation of third place.
Disappointment reigns too in the Netherlands camp, with Louis van Gaal’s side having made such a stunning start to their campaign by dispatching Spain 5-1. Likely to be contesting their final World Cup, senior stalwarts Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt and Nigel de Jong had all been hoping to steer the Oranje to their maiden triumph after a trio of runners-up spots. That wait goes on, and in truth the Dutch seemed to run out of steam towards the end, failing to find the net against Costa Rica or Argentina. Nevertheless, Van Gaal can still end his rein with a sense of satisfaction before he takes over at Manchester United and hands the baton to Guus Hiddink. Not only has he rebuilt the team since they lost all three group matches at UEFA EURO 2012, they remain unbeaten on his watch, with their penalty shoot-out loss going into the books as a draw. Leaving Brazil with the bronze medal, after taking silver in 2010, would help alleviate the prevailing sense of regret.
Brazil-Netherlands, Estadio Nacional, Brasilia, 17.00 (local time)
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Podium hopes: Brazil have disputed the Third Place Play-off on three previous occasions. A Seleção downed Sweden 4-2 in 1938 and Italy 2-1 in 1978, but finished on the losing side to Poland in 1974. As for the Netherlands, they will contest their 50th World Cup game looking to finish third on the podium for the first time, having succumbed 2-1 to Croatia in 1998.
Goalkeeping glory: The Netherlands have tended to bring the best out in goalkeepers at Brazil 2014, with the Budweiser Man of the Match award going to their opponents’ custodian in their last three matches. Argentina’s Sergio Romero took the honours in the semi-final, following on from Keylor Navas of Costa Rica and Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa – meaning that Julio Cesar would be well advised to stay on his toes.
Run over: Brazil’s loss to Germany was their first competitive defeat on home soil in 64 games since they went down 3-1 to Peru in the Copa America on 30 September 1975. None of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad were even alive at the time, but, as fate would have it, their painful last-four exit took place in the same stadium: the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte.
Pozzo pedigree: With Scolari’s charges now out, Vittorio Pozzo remains the only coach to have won a pair of World Cups, having steered Italy to glory in 1934 and 1938. Brazil’s Mario Zagallo’s also enjoyed a double taste of success, in 1970 and 1994, but for the latter tournament he served as an assistant to Carlos Alberto Parreira – who has been working alongside Scolari this year.
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The Netherlands are unsurprisingly devastated to have fallen short at the penultimate hurdle once again. Given the youthful nature of their squad, however, the Oranje have been keen to look for silver linings. As the defeated semi-finalists explained to FIFA, they will return home optimistic for the future, and satisfied that they gave their all.
For anyone who missed Brazil’s historic 7-1 loss to Germany, meanwhile, FIFA.com spent time in the Seleção camp seeking out the reactions of players and staff alike. A sense of shock still lingers after ‘The dream that disappeared in six minutes’ – an incredible turn of events that even the most creative fiction writers could not have predicted.
On this day
Before Belo Horizonte, Brazil suffered their heaviest World Cup defeat at the Stade de France on 12 July 1998, when hosts France lifted the Trophy following a 3-0 success. Despite the one-sided scoreline, the South American giants fielded a fearsome line-up in Paris – and one that their fans today must look back on wistfully – with the likes of Claudio Taffarel, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Bebeto leading the charge. Brazil owed their spot in the showpiece to a win against the Netherlands in the semi-finals, having edged through 4-2 on penalties at the end of a 1-1 draw.