On Sunday night, either Portugal or the Netherlands will be out of the World Cup and it's going to be quite a shock, because neither has the losing habit.
Under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Portugal has a 17-game unbeaten streak going. The Brazilian coach himself has never been beaten at the World Cup, and after leading Brazil to the trophy four years ago, he will try to extend his winning streak to 11 games on Sunday. The last time the Netherlands lost in a competitive game was two years ago, when it went down against Portugal in the semifinal of Euro 2004. And rookie World Cup coach Marco van Basten, has yet to be beaten in Germany too.
"We haven't lost for a long time. Neither have they," said Scolari on Saturday. "No one has an edge going into the game." Both teams conceded only one goal in their first three World Cup matches, indicating Sunday's game could be a tactical, low-scoring encounter.
"I don't expect anyone to win by more than one goal's difference. And it may even go to extra time and penalties," said Scolari.
Yet with Luis Figo and Deco on one side and Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie on the other, it's anybody's guess what will happen.
Van Basten said he would make special efforts to increase his strikeforce.
"Some extra attacking power won't hurt," he said. After the 0-0 draw with Argentina, Van Basten said he partly lost confidence in striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who he has threatened to bench because of a lack of effectiveness.
He had a heart-to-heart talk with the striker late Thursday but it remains unclear whether the criticism has reinvigorated the Manchester United striker.
"He agreed and said, "OK, I am going to do everything to play a bit better."'
Van Basten's other option would be Feyenoord's Dirk Kuyt, whose sturdy ball possession makes up for a lack of international recognition.
Either way, the Dutch will be boosted by the return of Robben, who was sidelined in the Netherlands' 0-0 draw with Argentina for tactical reasons, but combined with Van Persie on the right to spread defenses thin with their wide play.
Robben was voted man of the match in the Netherlands' victories against Serbia-Montenegro and Ivory Coast.
If history is anything to go by, the odds favor Portugal. Portugal will probably field a starting lineup similar to the one that beat the Netherlands 2-1 two years ago, while van Basten has totally revamped his team since.
Portugal looks like it will be fully fit for the match, while only right-back John Heitinga is a doubt for the Netherlands. Scolari said Deco has recovered from a sore ankle and should be fit on Sunday. The 33-year-old Figo has turned back the clock in his performances so far in the competition and been instrumental in the good run.
Even if the Dutch team is young, Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar represents his team's age and experience, and will become the most capped Dutch player with his 113rd international appearance on Sunday, one more than 1990s defender Frank de Boer. The Dutch will be by far Portugal's toughest opponent so far. The Iberian nation beat outsiders Iran, Angola and Mexico in the first round. The new-look Dutch also were unbeaten in their World Cup group, regarded as the toughest in the competition, and held favorite Argentina to a 0-0 draw.
The winner will play either England or Ecuador in the quarterfinals.