The Dazzling Dutch - World Cup Preview: Netherlands

While Dutchmen populate the list of some of the greatest footballers of all time, the Netherlands are perennial underachievers on the international stage. The nearly men have reached three World Cup Finals, coming out second best on every occasion. Despite being handed a tough group alongside reigning champions Spain, Chile and Australia; Hard-line manager Louis Van Gaal will be looking to put previous woes on the big stage to bed once and for all in Brazil, and deliver Netherlands’ first World Cup.

How They Qualified

Netherlands breezed to World Cup qualification in emphatic style, after being drawn in Qualification Group D with Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Estonia and Andorra. The 1988 European Champions obtained an impressive 28 points out of a possible 30, scoring 34 and conceding only 5 in the process. Throughout Qualification, Van Gaal tinkered with a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation – depending on the opponents, all the while utilising the clinical finishing ability of Robin Van Persie. Captain Van Persie scored 11 goals in Qualifying, and in turn finished as top scorer in the whole UEFA Qualifying region. All in all, it was a very straightforward and trouble free progression to Brazil.

Squad Overview

Louis Van Gaal has selected a squad including a mixture of youth and experience, with 14 years separating the youngest and the oldest players. A very experienced attacking line is coupled with a very inexperienced defence. It is interesting to note that the squad includes many young players who are currently plying their trade in the Dutch Eredivisie (16 of the provisional 30). It is expected that a few of these players will be cut from the squad when it is soon trimmed to 23, but it nonetheless shows that manager Van Gaal is still looking to the future – something which Manchester United fans will be pleased to see.

Notable omissions from the squad include former number 1 Maarten Stekelenburg – who started in the 2010 Final agsainst Spain, Gregory van der Wiel – who requested to be left out of the squad due to a long standing knee problem, and Kevin Strootman – who misses out due to a torn Cruciate Ligament in his left knee playing for Roma in March.

30 Man Provisional Squad

Goalkeepers; Goalkeepers: Jasper Cillessen (Ajax), Michel Vorm (Swansea City), Tim Krul (Newcastle United), Jeroen Zoet (PSV)

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Defenders;  Paul Verhaegh (Augsburg), Patrick van Aanholt (Vitesse), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord), Joel Veltman (Ajax), Stefan de Vrij (Feyenoord), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa), Bruno Martins Indi (Feyenoord), Karim Rekik (PSV), Terence Kongolo (Feyenoord), Daley Blind (Ajax)

Midfielders; Leroy Fer (Norwich City), Nigel de Jong (AC Milan), Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Jonathan de Guzman (Swansea City), Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV), Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), Rafael van der Vaart (Hamburg), Tonny Vilhena (Feyenoord)

Forwards; Quincy Promes (Twente), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Jean-Paul Boetius (Feyenoord), Robin van Persie (Manchester United), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Memphis Depay (PSV)

Strengths and Weaknesses

An obvious strength of the Netherlands squad is that the attacking group is highly experienced. Huntelaar, Robben, Kuyt and Van Persie are confortably over the 50 cap mark, with the latter two rapidly approaching the International century mark. With chances few and far between in tight World Cup games, you could bank on any of the quartet mentioned to take a big chance late in the game should the ball find their feet. Midfield is also a glaring strength of the Netherlands’ squad. Van Der Vaart, Sneijder and De Jong are well travelled and internationally proven players, as well as De Guzman, Fer and Wijnaldum whose qualities are plain to see.

In contrast, there are also some weaknesses in the provisional squad. Gone are the days of a Dutch defence with Staam and De Boer. Instead, the European giants are relying on the relative inexperience and sometimes naivety of Vlaar and Martins Indi at the back. With defence being such a key area, especially in World Cup games, the back four (or five, as is rumoured to be Van Gaal’s World Cup tactic) will have to be at the top of their game.

Key Players

Robin Van Persie

The influence of Dutch Captain Robin Van Persie will be crucial in deciding how far his team will go in the tournament. Despite having an injury hit season with Manchester United, Holland’s record goal scorer still managed to score an impressive 19 goals in 28 games. The 2014 World Cup will be the fifth consecutive major tournament in which Van Persie has represented his country, and one he will be looking to put the heartbreak of the 2010 Final loss to bed. Van Persie poses a constant threat to opposition defences, being a set piece specialist too. If the Netherlands are to go all the way in the competition, Robin Van Persie has to be fully fit, and at his lethal best.

Wesley Sneijder

Well travelled attacking midfielder Wesley Sneijder has been bossing the middle of the pitch since his professional debut for Ajax in 2002. Since making his international debut in 2003 aged only 18, Sneijder has already played in five major international tournaments. Individually, he was awarded the Bronze Boot and Silver Ball in the 2010 South Africa World Cup, named in the Team of the Tournament in Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010, and named Man of the Match in 6 out of the 11 games played in these two tournaments. A fantastic first season in Turkey for Galatasaray saw him score 17 goals and provide 9 assists in 42 games, and help Galatasaray reach the knockout stages of the Champions League. Often the architect of the Dutch team, expect Sneijder to have yet another impressive major tournament.

Arjen Robben

Arjen Robben is a match winner – simple as that. The experienced winger is widely seen as one of the best players in the world, and has proved his £21m transfer fee from Real Madrid to Bayern Munich to be an absolute bargain. In his first season for Bayern, Robben was voted Bundesliga Footballer of the Year, and scored a stunning late volley to put Manchester United out of the Champions League on away goals. The following season, Robben was nominated for Champions League Best Midfidler, only to be pipped to the award by national team compatriot Wesley Sneijder. In the 2012-13 season, Arjen Robben was named Man of the Match in the Champions League Final against Borussia Dortmund, after assisting Mario Mandzukic’s goal to level the scores at 1-1, and then score the winner himself in the 89th minute. In the 2014 DFB Pokal Final, Arjen Robben opened the scoring for Bayern in Extra Time against foes Borussia Dortmund – and eventually lead his team to a 2-0 win. Robben’s big game experience, along with his undeniable match winning quality could be the difference between success and failure in the World Cup this summer.

Potential Starting XI

Verdict

Netherlands’ opening group game against Spain will give a good indication where they are in terms of competing with the best. A draw would be a good result to open with without question. A comfortable win against Australia in their second fixture is expected, leading to a potential second place decider in their last group game against Chile, to decide who progresses to the Round of 16 stage. When this Netherlands team are good, they are very good – but when they are poor, they fail miserably. Although there are world class players in the squad, the nucleus of young players may mean that this is nothing more than a development exercise.

I do not believe they are close to being consistent enough to go far in the tournament, and the inexperienced defence which lacks quality will be found out by the top sides. A second place finish in Group B would likely set up a knockout stage game with hosts Brazil.

Predicted Finish: Round of 16

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