There can be no underestimating the sense of expectation generated by Brazil's quarter-final tie with the Netherlands at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Friday afternoon. The prospect of two sets of talented players going head to head for a place in the semi-finals at South Africa 2010 is an enticing one to say the least. And adding an extra frisson of excitement is the rivalry that these two great footballing nations have built up in their previous three meetings in the competition.
Honours have been shared in those unforgettable encounters, with both sides claiming a win apiece and the other game ending in a draw. The story began at Germany 1974, when the team dubbed the 'Clockwork Orange', one spearheaded by the inimitable Johan Cruyff, faced the Brazilians in the final match of the second group phase. At stake was a place in the Final itself, and it was the Dutch who claimed it through unanswered goals from Johan Neeskens and Cruyff. The match proved to be a fractious affair littered with niggling fouls, one of which earned Brazil's Luis Pereira a red card.
Two decades later the two sides came face to face again in Dallas in the quarter-finals at USA 1994. This time A Seleção would have their revenge, though not without a scare or two along the way. Surging into a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Romario and Bebeto, the Brazilians were rocked by a brave Dutch fightback, with Dennis Bergkamp and Aron Winter levelling the score before Branco rifled home a trademark free-kick to give Carlos Alberto Parreira's side a memorable 3-2 win.
In a later interview with FIFA.com, coach Parreira identified that game as the turning point on Brazil's run to their fourth world crown. "We were winning 2-0 and playing well and then, all of a sudden, the Netherlands came right back," he recalled. "They had a very technical team and they never gave up either. They just kept on attacking us, which made for a fascinating game, the best of the tournament."
The two old foes crossed paths again in the semi-finals in France four years later. And it proved to be yet another absorbing encounter, with both teams putting the emphasis on attack in front of an enraptured crowd at Marseille's Stade Velodrome. Ronaldo opened the scoring for the South Americans, and with chances flowing at either end, Patrick Kluivert headed home to force extra time. No further goals ensued, and in the penalty decider that followed, Brazil keeper Claudio Taffarel took his side through to the Final by denying Phillip Cocu and then Ronald de Boer from the spot.
When he gives his final team talk to his players on Friday, Brazil coach Dunga may well bring up that classic meeting in Dallas 16 years ago, one he took part in. Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com as part of our series of interviews with the USA 1994 winners, the battle-hardened former midfielder said: "That game meant a lot to our team because we showed a great deal of maturity. Branco had only just come into the side and yet he was the one who won us the game. That shows you how strong the team was."
Opinion is divided in the current side as to just how decisive tomorrow's game could be. While rampaging right-back Maicon believes the winners could well go on to lift the Trophy, team-mate Kaka is more cautious about the prospects of whoever prevails. "It's too soon to say that the Final has come early. It's a big game and a classic one too but there are a few other sides who are playing well and with every chance of taking the title."
The fact remains, however, that the winners in each of those previous meetings have gone on to the Final, an omen that ought to provide both teams with a little extra motivation on Friday afternoon, not that they are likely to need it.