Midfield General

The Iron Tulip and the Louse

Can Louis van Gaal and Miguel Herrera do a remake of “The Odd Couple” after the World Cup? Please?

One is over six feet tall and practically chinless, a control freak in the locker room who thinks he is God's gift to the beautiful game. The other is a portly 5' 6" with almost no neck and used to chug up and down the field with a bleached blond mullet before he started making dubious music videos as a coach. One sits serenely on the sidelines flanked by his renowned assistants until his team scores. The other is a Tasmanian devil of emotion and flailing limbs. And after their teams play, one will depart Brazil and the World Cup.

But first, maybe they'll have a beer together. Despite their superficial differences, Mexico's Miguel Herrera -- he's the short one -- and the Netherlands' Louis van Gaal have much in common, not least having captured the imagination and interest of fans around the world.

Miguel Herrera was a defender by trade, a hard-working, scrappy sort known to be willing to throw down and fight if it was needed, and even when it strictly wasn't. He had a chance to make the 1994 World Cup team snuffed out by then-coach Miguel Mejia Baron, who thought it too risky to take a chance on Herrera's temper staying in check. Now, of course, his emotional outbursts are part of the personality that many have come to admire.

By contrast, Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal -- yes, that's his real name -- played as a midfielder and never rose to the top ranks of his professional club, Ajax, let alone to the Netherlands' national team. Nonetheless, he was a player who could interpret well what coaches like Belgium's Guy Thys, whom he played for at Royal Antwerp, wanted players to do. By the time his playing career ended in 1987, van Gaal was already working as an assistant coach.

But there are similarities between the two coaches that run deeper than the differences. Like Herrera, van Gaal didn't grow up with a father, but in a sense, for both men, it meant they never really stood in the shadow of one, either. They have made their own way in the world.

Of course, van Gaal is famous now partly because in addition to coaching the Netherlands, he's also signed on to coach one of the world's most famous clubs, Manchester United. He has approved new player signings for the English club even as his national team is busy at the World Cup.

Herrera would know something about that sort of double-duty. He took over as head coach of Mexico on an interim basis in October of last year, while still continuing to coach Club América, arguably the Manchester United of Mexico. After safely qualifying El Tri for the World Cup by winning a crucial playoff versus New Zealand, he finished the year off with Club América before returning to national team duties.

Statistically, van Gaal's squad may be the most impressive of the World Cup thus far, but many admire how well Herrera has done with Mexico, not only because the team had a horrid 2013 before he came on board, but also because his salary is the lowest of any coach at the tournament.

Herrera has impressed many with his efficient use of an unorthodox 5-3-2 formation that has produced sparkling counterattacks for Mexico. Van Gaal advocates the same formation for the Netherlands, even though it's just as unusual a choice for a team that has traditionally played four at the back. Ultimately, the winner may be whichever side can best exploit the advantages of the approach. However, Mexico may have an ace up its sleeve, especially if the match comes down to penalty kicks. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa is on form and has allowed far fewer goals than Jasper Cillessen has for the Dutch.

Though Herrera's style may be cuddlier than that of the bombastic van Gaal, there's no doubt van Gaal's demanding approach has garnered results.  And even if his celebration doesn't reach Herrera's elevated levels, van Gaal has an exuberance all his own.

After the two coaches meet in Fortaleza, their paths are sure to diverge. Van Gaal, with his long, successful résumé and multi-lingual abilities, will go to Manchester United. Herrera, with his one memorable national club championship, may well stay on as Mexico's coach, or perhaps a team in Spain will look to take a chance on him. As expressive as his body language is, Herrera speaks mainly Spanish, which likely limits his coaching opportunities abroad.

So it comes down to this: the Iron Tulip versus the Louse (who, it must be said, looks more like a toad these days). Even if their music videos differ, Herrera and van Gaal are united in their fierce desire to win. On Sunday, only one will.

Ian Walton / Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP / Getty Images

Midfield General

Latin America Leads the Way

Africa was supposed to be the next hotbed of world soccer. It’s not.

Whether it's a World Cup year or not, everybody knows where to find the world's best soccer players: Brazil. But during this tournament, some of Brazil's less-fancied neighbors in the Western Hemisphere are also getting into the act. Colombians, Costa Ricans, Ecuadoreans, and Mexicans are all impressing the pro scouts. The question is, can these fresh talents from the Americas really cut it in Europe's top leagues?

So far this has been Latin America's World Cup, with seven of the nine teams progressing to the knockout stages. That's more than Europe managed from their 13 representatives in Brazil. As clubs run through their talent assessments, don't be surprised if it means further cherry-picking from the Americas.

Back in 2002 Africa was seen as soccer's great untapped resource. Senegal's debut appearance at the World Cup in 2002 compelled Liverpool to spend £15 million on El Hadji Diouf and Salif Diao. In 2010 it was tiny Slovenia attracting attention, having qualified for a second World Cup in eight years. "There's a lot of trend scouting in football, now Slovenia are in fashion," wrote respected scout Tor-Kristian Karlsen in his Calcio Italia column the following year.

The evidence suggests Latin America can expect to be the focus for soccer's money men in 2014. Uruguay continues to punch above its weight despite a population of a little under four million people, while Costa Rica topped a group that included three former champions.

While the global icons such as Lionel Messi and Neymar have delivered, new talents have announced themselves too. Ecuador's Mexico-based striker Enner Valencia has scored three goals, Joel Campbell set the tone for Costa Rica in its opening win over Uruguay, and young Colombian playmaker James Rodríguez has arguably shone brightest of all: three goals and two assists in just two and a half matches. With many World Cup participants still playing domestically, their teams' successes reflect well on the talent still in the Americas, not just those who've sought their fortunes in Europe.

Few expected such an impact. This is the first World Cup in Latin America since 1986 and the first in South America since 1978. Argentina won both of those, but with widespread globalization since then the advantage of teams from the Americas might have been overstated. Nevertheless, though almost 5,000 miles separate Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro, Latin American sides have adapted better. By contrast, no Asian teams made it through, and England, Spain, and Italy exited together in the group stage for the first time since 1974.

Despite that failure, those last three countries remain the top three markets for club soccer. Though the Latin American talent pool may be vast, the question of adaptability in the other direction will be the main concern for players. World Cup success doesn't guarantee consistent levels of performance over an exhausting European season.

Indeed, the record on this point is spotty at best. Chile has impressed at the World Cup, but Jean Beausejour and Gary Medel have suffered relegations from English football's Premier League. Their teammate Gonzalo Jara already played second-tier soccer in England and is now without a club. Ecuador's Antonio Valencia is one of the most polarizing figures at Manchester United. Even Guillermo Ochoa, the Mexican goalkeeper who so spectacularly shut out Brazil, was relegated from the French top bracket with Ajaccio last term.

As a result, any conclusions from a month-long festival of futebol or fútbol must come with caveats. But so far, a clear message is emerging: Just as the Amazon rainforests are the Earth's lungs, Latin America continues to breathe new life into the global game.

Clive Rose / Michael Steele / Warren Little / Getty Images Sport