After playing their first two matches in Kerkrade before roaming to Tilburg and Doetinchem, the host Dutch have returned to the FIFA World Youth Championship's southernmost venue for their quarterfinal against Nigeria. As the winners stay on to play their semi-final in the same venue, the hosts seem to have every intention of stretching their stay in the charming Limburg Province.
After a look back at the matches played so far, there is little to separate the two teams. The success of the two sides' is built on stingy defence as both teams blanked their opponents three times out of four at the finals and, in an interesting coincidence, only conceded goals to Asian opposition. Japan are the only team to have scored against the Dutch, while their archrivals Korea Republic are alone in breeching Nigeria's rearguard. Although the Nigerians allowed one more goal than the Dutch, there's no great difference between the two at the back.
In the attacking department, Holland seem to have a slight edge: they put the ball in the net nine times to Nigeria's five. While the Dutch arguably were up against weaker opposition in the first round, this is still a notable difference, and has not gone unnoticed by Nigerian coach Samson Siasia, who acknowledged to FIFA.com that his strikers weren't finishing as well as they were creating.
"We must get our strikers playing as well as our midfield and defence," the boss remarked with two days to go before the match.
In fact, in another remarkable coincidence, the two quarterfinalists were paired in the round of 16 with the two leakiest backlines of those that made it through. Holland made it count with three goals against Chile, who already had eight in the minus column from the first round. Nigeria was decidedly less prolific against the Ukraine, adding just one to their opponent's tally of six against.
Directly after the Round of 16, the Dutch players were already looking forward to the next match. They had watched a few minutes of the Nigeria v. Ukraine game, played in the same stadium, and predictably none of them had failed to notice the physical aspects of Nigeria's play. Standout centre-back Ron Vlaar clearly relished the prospect: "It seems the Nigerians are very strong physically. Let them come on. I'm not afraid!"
The Dutch would be wise though not to underestimate the discipline of this Nigerian squad. No defense could hope to blank Brazil, Switzerland and the Ukraine on power alone, and the Nigerian backline has proven able to keep its shape under serious pressure. Their discipline runs so high, in fact, that in the game against the Ukraine wingback Taye Taiwo followed his opponent, Dmytro Vorobei, all the way to the touchline when he was substituted, only to pick up his replacement Maksym Feshchuk.
Along with the physical and individual prowess of both teams, their spirit is also high. Ryan Babel of the Netherlands: "At first the team needed some time to get used to each other, but we're coming together very well. We've grown into a very close-knit group." John Obi Mikel of Nigeria had a more poetic expression: "We play with happiness. There is peace in our camp."
After their win against Chile in the Round of 16, Holland coach Foppe de Haan bluntly declared, "I was certain before the game that if we did what we had to do, we couldn't possibly lose." He declined to make the same kind of statement about his quarterfinal opponents, but the level of confidence in the Dutch team seems to run high.
That said, Nigeria coach Siasia is fancying his side's chances as well. "We are getting better with every game and the Dutch are in for a long night if we start scoring like we should."