The Round of 16 game between the Netherlands and Slovakia pits one of the tournament favourites against a nation making its first FIFA World Cup™ appearance in its own right. Despite the obvious contrast between the star-studded Oranje and their lesser-known but close-knit rivals, it promises to be a fascinating duel.
Netherlands-Slovakia, Round of 16, Durban Stadium, Durban, 16:00 (local time)
In contrast to a number of Europe’s other big guns, the Oranje managed to assert their authority in their section, Group E, in which they were never seriously troubled. After beating Denmark 2-0 in their opener, they defeated Japan 1-0 to secure their berth in the Round of 16 before taking on an already-eliminated Cameroon in their first-phase fixture. Coach Bert van Marwijk used the occasion to run the rule over some of some of his squad players, and still came out 2-1 winners. The Netherlands’ strength in depth, along with the return to fitness of stand-out winger Arjen Robben, suggests the team are strong title contenders, though they will not be underestimating opponents that have already created one of the biggest shocks of the tournament so far by undoing Italy.
For their part, Slovakia took some time to find top gear, but when they did it proved too much for the reigning world champions. The central Europeans showed their inexperience at this level in allowing New Zealand to secure a late equaliser in their opening fixture, and then were outplayed in a 2-0 reverse by Paraguay. However, they upset the form book with a gritty and skilled display to secure a memorable 3-2 win that put Italy out of the FIFA World Cup.
Players to watch
Miroslav Stoch v Gregory van der Wiel
Expect sparks to fly when the pair renew aquaintances here in the Round of 16. Miroslav Stoch, an attacking midfielder who spent last year on loan from Chelsea with Dutch champions Twente, will find himself facing Gregory van der Wiel, right-back of Ajax. A fascinating duel awaits between these two fine prospects.
1 – The meeting between the Netherlands and Slovakia is the first since the central European nation became an independent country. However, the Oranje faced the former Czechoslovakia once before at a FIFA World Cup, losing 3-0 after extra time at France 1938.
What they said
“We expect a difficult game against Slovakia. They showed a lot of character against the Italians and were rewarded with a famous victory. Everything’s fine from our point of view, but there are a just a few things here and there that we need to put right,” Robin van Persie, Netherlands forward.
“I hope we're capable of producing another performance like the one against Italy. I believe we can give any team something to think about. But obviously the Dutch are favourites, not just for this game but for the whole tournament,” Robert Vittek, Slovakia forward.
The voice of the fans
“The Dutch are already thinking about Brazil. which could play into the hands of Slovakia, who are very comfortable in the role of underdogs. If this game is anything like Slovakia-Italy, get ready for plenty of excitement,” Jaaanosik, FIFA.com user.
Are Slovakia capable of creating another upset?