Chile and Slovakia will be driven by the shared desire to spring an upset when they tackle respective rivals Brazil and the Netherlands in the Round of 16 on Monday.
Both the Brazilians and Dutch enjoy a worldwide reputation for spectacular play, but arguably no team at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ has been more attractive going forward, not to mention more resolutely attack-minded, than Chile. That said, Marcelo Bielsa's men will be put to a gruelling test by their fellow South Americans, whose strength and serenity particularly caught the eye during the group stage. The current Brazil line-up may not yet stand comparison with some of their sparkling predecessors, but their results have been no less convincing.
The Netherlands are gracing South Africa with players every bit as gifted as previous vintages and they hope to break new ground by lifting the Trophy for the first time. Bert van Marwijk's troops have gone an impressive 22 matches without defeat and now find themselves just four games away from football’s ultimate prize, but they will need to be wary of a fearless Slovakia side, who so memorably disposed of holders Italy 3-2.
Netherlands-Slovakia, Durban, 16.00
Brazil-Chile, Johannesburg (Ellis Park), 20.30
The big game
This all-South American showdown speaks volumes for the success CONMEBOL sides have enjoyed in South Africa, though it will be Brazil feeling the more confident thanks to their 46 victories in their 65 previous meetings between the countries. The five-time world champions' coach Dunga has altered his team's style of play without compromising their winning mentality, giving them an almost European feel characterised by power and efficiency. That transformation owes much to the fact that 20 of his 23 players ply their club trade on the Old Continent, yet there have still been characteristic Brazilian flourishes, flowing from the likes of Maicon, Elano and Luis Fabiano.
The rich seam of talent continues to run deep and Dunga was even able to do without Kaka, Elano and Robinho for the goalless draw against Portugal. Brazil give the impression of a steamroller that is gathering momentum and will be difficult to stop, particularly since Chile coach Bielsa will need to turn to youth after the 2-1 loss to Spain left him with three players suspended. Centre-back duo Gary Medel and Waldo Ponce will be notable absentees, but South Africa 2010 has hardly been devoid of upsets thus far.
Favourites (NED) v Underdogs (SV
Independent since 1993, Slovakia may have taken a while to emerge from the shadow cast by the former Czechoslovakia, but there can be no disputing their steady progress. Fourth in their qualifying section ahead of France 1998, third on the road to Korea/Japan 2002 and second four years ago, they continued their upward trajectory by sealing top spot for South Africa 2010 thanks to a team built on sturdy foundations. Forwards Stanislav Sestak of Bochum and Robert Vittek of Ankaragucu – the latter scorer of a double against Italy – are the brightest lights in the side along with Napoli playmaker Marek Hamsik and Liverpool stopper Martin Skrtel, and having disposed of La Nazionale they must turn their attentions to another European powerhouse. Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk boasts a squad brimming with star quality and has succeeded in getting those gifted individuals to play as a unit, giving the likes of Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben unshakable belief that they can go all the way. Slovakia, on the other hand, have exceeded expectations and have nothing to lose.
What they said
"I’d compare this generation with the one that reached the World Cup semi-finals in 1998. Back then I was happy with that result, but this time I’d be very disappointed to finish second,” Phillip Cocu, Netherlands assistant coach.
Faith and passion: Inter Milan playmaker Wesley Sneijder has been floating on a cloud for the last few months. A key figure in the Nerazzurri’s historic league, cup and UEFA Champions League treble, Sneijder has also admitted to finding both love and religion of late. Head over heels for Dutch actress Yolanthe Cabau, he decided to prove his dedication to her by converting to Catholicism and, taking advice from practising Catholic Javier Zanetti, chose to be baptised with minimum fuss at Inter’s chapel in their Appiano Gentile training complex. He and Yolanthe have now prayed together over the telephone every day since the FIFA World Cup began.
Prolific period: The final 15 minutes continue to yield the most goals in FIFA World Cup encounters. No fewer than 40 have been struck in the 75th minute down the years, with another 36 in the 83rd and 35 in the 88th. Only the 18th minute comes close to matching those benchmarks, with 35 goals plundered at the moment when games tend to start opening up.
All Whites achievement: New Zealand left the competition rightly proud of their efforts, having amassed three consecutive draws including their memorable 1-1 stalemate with Italy – the virtual equivalent of Brazil holding South Africa in rugby. It was only the fourth time in the tournament’s history that a team were eliminated in the group stage without tasting defeat, after Scotland in 1974, Cameroon in 1982 and Belgium in 1998.