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Netherlands: Team Preview - 2014 FIFA World Cup

4.96K   //    29 May 2014, 23:28 IST
The Netherlands national team

Although Dutch clubs have rarely been the cynosure of the world, the national team however have a completely different perception. From Johan Cryuff and Marco Van Basten to the more recent Dennis Bergkamp and Robin Van Persie, the Dutch national side has given the world some truly world class attackers. And it is the attack that manager Louis Van Gaal is counting on, to help the Oranje claim their maiden World Cup trophy.

While the Dutch Eredivisie isn’t nearly as competitive as Europe’s three major leagues, it houses some of the most sought-after young talents in world football at the moment. And it is these youngsters which form a major part of Van Gaal’s plan as he hopes to go one better than last time and do what no Dutch manager has ever done before, win football’s biggest prize.

Although the current squad is relatively inexperienced in defence, the fact that they have played a lot with each other certainly bodes well for the Dutch. As Spain and Germany have shown, having a side comprising a lot of players from a particular club means that they will understand each other’s game a lot better. It is on this understanding in defence, coupled with the usual suspects in attack that Van Gaal is counting on to bring glory to the Oranje.

Road to World Cup

Louis Van Gaal’s free-scoring Dutch team began their trip to Brazil in September 2012 in Group D alongside two minnows in Estonia and Andorra and three dark horses in Romania, Hungary and Turkey. On paper, a tough qualifying group was taken care of with consummate ease by the Dutch, who remained unbeaten throughout the qualifying phase, winning all but one of the their games.

Having started their campaign with an unconvincing 2-0 win over Turkey on September 7, 2012, the Oranje then went into overdrive as they went on a six-game winning streak, which was only halted by a surprising 2-2 draw against Estonia. But, in the following game, they won 2-0 against Andorra to secure their qualification to Brazil and proceeded to win their final two games as well. They ended their qualifying campaign, just how they started, with a 2-0 win over Turkey.

Robin van Persie was th eOranje’s top scorer in the qualifiers

Only five teams in Europe let in fewer goals than the Dutch defence (5) and only Germany (34) managed to score more than the Dutch side’s 31. Manchester United striker Robin van Persie’s 11 goals were the most by any player during the European qualifying phase and in the process also became his country's most prolific international of all time.


Just like he always does, Van Gaal made the press wait with bated breath as to who his 30-man preliminary squad are going to be. With Kevin Strootman already out injured, there weren’t any major surprises in the squad. The squad is a nice blend of both young prospects and experienced professionals, with the defence having more of the former and the attack having the latter.

The biggest quandary for Van Gaal ahead of the World Cup was who will be in goal. Having tried Michel Vorm, Tim Krul, Jasper Cillessen, Maarten Stekelenburg and Kenneth Vermeer in goal at various points during the qualifying campaign, Van Gaal decided to cull the latter two from the squad in favor of PSV’s Jeroen Zoet. Van Gaal also revealed that Tim Krul will be the first-choice ahead of Cillessen and Vorm.

The defence might actually be the side’s least experienced area, but also the one likely to surprise a lot of curious onlookers. With four defenders, who formed a crucial part of Feyenoord’s brilliant League campaign in the squad, there is certainly a sense of togetherness in defence. While the midfield is well settled with the likes of Nigel de Jong, Jonathan de Guzman and Wesley Sneijder providing the experience to complement the likes of Jordy Clasie and Tonny Vilhena, the injury to Rafael Van Der Vaart might just give the younger players a big chance to impress in Brazil.

The famed Dutch attack features the usual suspects in Klaas jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, while at the same time giving room for some highly-talked about young prospects like PSV’s Memphis Depay and Feyenoord’s Jean Paul Boetius. With Van Persie and Robben, set to be the main men, the emergence of Dynamo Kiev forward Jeremain Lens means a mouth-watering attacking trio is all set to take Brazil by storm.

Goalkeepers: Tim Krul (Newcastle), Jasper Cillessen (Ajax), Jeroen Zoet (PSV), Michael Vorm (Swansea)

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

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

Forwards: Klaas jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Jean Paul Boetius (Feyenoord), Quincy Promes (Twente), Robin van Persie (Man Utd), Memphis Depay (PSV), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)


Louis Van Gaal

After a disastrous Euro 2012 campaign, Louis Van Gaal took charge of the national side and proceeded to stamp his authority on the side. After the more pragmatic approach of Bert van Marwijk, Van Gaal restored Netherlands to their more traditional “Total football” attacking ways. Thanks to Van Gaal’s insistence of playing fast, free-flowing attacking football, the side scored 34 goals in the qualifying campaign for this year’s World Cup, which was only bettered by Germany’s 36. Tactically astute and always keen to innovate, Van Gaal has proved that he is certainly the right man for the job so far.

With the 62-year-old poised to take over at Manchester United at the end of the World Cup, he will be keen to finish with a flourish. And what better finish could there be, than a maiden World Cup title for one of football’s most famous footballing nations.

Formations and Tactics

One of Holland’s biggest strengths in every World Cup they have taken part in, has been their attack. Whilst they might not always be the greatest adverts for defending, few can delight a football fan whilst attacking, like the Dutch can. Although they have always been technically solid, they haven’t always had the greatest of defenders. Bert van Marwijk, tried to correct that by going for a more pragmatic approach in 2010 World Cup. While some might say that he succeeded, as he reached the final for only the third time in their history, few Dutch fans would have liked how the team played in South Africa.

Since the appointment of Van Gaal, the Oranje have gone for a more progressive, attacking style while at the same time ensuring that the defense is never too exposed. They have been able to do that thanks to a formation that not many teams employ these days. But the sheer technical brilliance of the Dutch players means that it can even be interchanged within a game.

4-3-3 formation

How Holland will line up in a 4-3-3 formation

As Van Gaal has pointed out on more than one occasion, this side is highly adaptable and is capable of changing formations even during the course of a game. One formation that the Dutchman is likely to employ, when he side are in dire need of goals is the 4-3-3 formation. Instead of the extra center back, Van Gaal has the license to play someone like Wesley Sneijder in a floating role in front of the two man midfield duo.

With the defensive retaining its shape and the full backs continuing to bomb on, this formation, gives the side a bit more in the attacking third. With the trio of Robben, Lens and Van Persie leading the attack, this formation will add an extra presence to that, with either the more experienced Sneijder or the talented Memphis Depay joining the trio as they look to create an opening. The same formation can also be used defensively, if one of the three center backs, push further forward into midfield and play alongside or just in front the central midfield duo.

4-4-2 formation

How Holland will line up in a 4-4-2 formation

Another formation that Van Gaal might wish to employ is the good-old fashioned 4-4-2. With the backline and the central midfield duo remaining the same, Van Gaal can just as easily play Robben on the right wing and Memphis Depay on the left and overload the wings. With Huntelaar and Van Persie up front, they have players who are both good in the air and on the ground. This formation might prove to be crucial in a tough physical encounter, when the Dutch are unable to play their usual free flowing football and need a plan B to break the opposition down.

Best Starting XI

Given the tactical fluidity of the Dutch squad, picking a best XI is almost as hard as trying to find a needle in a haystack. But, this set of players are likely to start, both because of their experience and because of their ability to execute a game plan and play into their strengths. Here are the expected starters for this edition.

Goalkeeper – Tim Krul

Defenders – Daryl Janmaat, Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij,  Patrick van Aanholt

Midfielders – Nigel de Jong, Daley Blind, Wesley Sneijder

Forwards – Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie, Jeremain Lens

History at the World Cup

Historically one of the world’s finest footballing nations, Netherlands are the last of the great footballing nations to have never won the World Cup. They have had their fair share of ups and downs with the latter far more in number than the former. Far too often, the Dutch have, for all their attacking quality, flattered to deceive in the World Cup.

Having played their first World Cup in 1934, the Dutch didn’t have it all their own way early in tournament. Two First Round exits in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups were followed by a barren run of 36 years, where they either didn’t qualify or enter into the World Cup. After a long absence, reached back-to-back World Cup Finals in both 1974 and 1978, but lost both of them to West Germany and Argentina respectively.

But, the good work didn’t last for long, as what followed was another barren spell of twenty years in which they failed to qualify twice in a row in 1982 and 1986 and followed it up with two more disappointing World Cup campaigns. And it wasn’t until 1998 that they managed to reach the semi-final of the World Cup. Since then, the next three tournaments have been up and down again. From not qualifying in 2002 to finishing second for the third time against, Spain last time around, the Dutch have done nothing to take away their tag of always being the bridesmaid, but never the bride.

Netherlands Performances at each World Cup
1930 Did not participate
1934 Round 1
1938 Round 1
1950 Did not participate
1954 Did not participate
1958 Did not qualify
1962 Did not qualify
1966 Did not qualify
1970 Did not qualify
1974 Runners-Up
1978 Runners-Up
1982 Did not qualify
1986 Did not qualify
1990 Round of 16
1994 Quarter final
1998 Fourth Place
2002 Did not qualify
2006 Round of 16
2010 Runners-Up

Best Performance in a World Cup

While it is true that they came second in the 2010 World Cup, that was by no means their greatest hour. Instead it was the 1974 World Cup that showed the world what the Netherlands were all about. After a 36-year hiatus from the World Cup, the Netherlands finally made it to the 1974 World Cup and on the evidence of their performances, certainly made up for lost time.

Netherlands at the 1974 World Cup

In the First round of Group games, Netherlands managed to comfortably beat both Uruguay and Bulgaria, either side of a 0-0 draw with Sweden, which would be the only game in which they failed to score, in the tournament. Having finished first in the First round, they came up against Argentina, East Germany and Brazil in the Second round of Group games. They first thrashed Argentina 4-0 thanks to a Cruyff master class and then beat the other two teams 2-0 thanks to a Neeskens goal in each game to secure a final spot with West Germany, which they would go onto lose, even though they took the lead before the opposition had even touched the ball.  

But, it was not just the fact that the Dutch had managed to get out of the First Round for the first time, or beat Brazil to claim top spot in the Second Round as well, or manage to take the lead in a World Cup final which they eventually lost, it was much more than that. For, the Dutch were able to do what few nations have managed to do in the history of the World Cup, something even World Cup winning nations have been unable to achieve - Leave an indelible imprint on the way the game is played.

For, their style of play in the World Cup took what Ajax had been working on in the early 1970s and just went global. Few systems or formations or playing styles have an impact on the game, for decades after they have been first employed, but this one had. Netherlands demonstrated to the world what “Total football” was all about. Instead of having specialized positions, players were required to defend and attack as and when the situation required. Every game they played was an evidence of that, two of their most creative players, Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens were asked to defend and at times, did so with great aplomb. For even if they didn’t win it, they are still arguably the best side to have ever played in a World Cup.

Predictions: How far can they go?

In a group that contains reigning World Cup winners Spain, dark horses Chile and an Australian side with nothing to lose, the Dutch don’t really have an easy way out of the group stage. But, given their quality in attack, they along with Spain are likely to progress into the next round. If they win the group, they are likely to face the runner-up from Group A, which might be one of Croatia or Cameroon. Should they win that, they are likely to face either England or Italy in the quarterfinal depending on who finishes first in that group. In the semi-final, either Argentina or Belgium look likely candidates.

While that is in itself a tough looking set of fixtures, should they finish runner up in the group, to Spain, which is pretty likely, they will probably face Brazil in the Round of 16, followed by probably Italy and Argentina, which will mean that they will have to beat three World Champions to even get to the final. So, a lot depends on where they finish in their group and their opening clash with Spain on June 13. If the Oranje either draw or win that game, they look like they will at least get to the quarter-finals, but if they don’t, it will be difficult for them, to even get beyond the Round of 16.

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