Historically famous for Johan Cruyff, Total Football and never quite managing to win the World Cup, no one know what to make of the Netherlands this year, especially as they’re in a tough Group B with Spain, Chile and Australia. Here are 10 things you need to know about the Netherlands:
1. The head coach is about to take over at Manchester United
Louis van Gaal is arrogant but brilliant, almost always backing up big words with big trophies. For example, when he became Ajax head coach in 1991, he congratulated the club for hiring the best manager in the world. It was his first job but, four years later, van Gaal and Ajax were lifting the Champions League trophy. The one time it didn’t work was in 2001, when van Gaal was appointed Netherlands coach and predicted not one, but two World Cup trophies in his future … and then failed to qualify for the 2002 tournament. He’s back for another go, but will be leaving to replace David Moyes as Manchester United manager after the World Cup.
2. They recently changed formation
Van Gaal had been using is classic 4-3-3 system, which features a dynamic midfield with Robin van Persie up front along with two wide players. However, in their friendly against Ecuador, they switched to a 5-3-2 formation with wingbacks, bringing winger Arjen Robben inside to partner van Persie.
3. Surprise! The keeper plays for Ajax
Jasper Cillessen is 25 years old and plats for van Gaal’s beloved Ajax. It was perhaps thought Michel Vorm would be starting, but Cillessen arguably had the better season, plus Van Gaal has a history of favoring goalkeepers from his former club.
4. Very few caps in the back-line
Though they only conceded five goals through the qualifying stages, the Dutch defense is a question mark because most of their defenders haven’t had much experience on the international level. Ron Vlaar leads the team with only 24 caps while Bruno Martins Indi and Daryl Janmaat have just 16 appearances each. The defensive player to watch is Ajax’s Daley Blind (son of former national team defender Danny Blind) who will either play leftback or as a holding midfielder and is an expert at keeping possession of the ball and playing smart, simple passes.
5. Arjen Robben is the dangerman
Whether he plays on the left wing and cuts inside to shoot with his right, or plays as RvP’s strike partner/support striker, Ajen Robben will once again be electric. The brilliant bald attacker still possesses pace that will frighten defenders, along with that jinking insistence that he’s going past them, no matter how hard they try to stop him.
RvP possesses that special skill of knowing when and how to step away from defenders and find the space. One millisecond he’s marked, the next he’s disappeared, only to reappear with the ball at his feet and a clear sight of goal.
7. The key defensive midfielder is missing
Kevin Strootman was ruled out of the World Cup after tearing his ACL in his left knee while playing for his club, AS Roma. This is one of the reasons why van Gaal switched to a 5-3-2 formation as Strootman was integral to the aggressive 4-3-3 formation.
8. The team’s experience range is donut shaped
The majority of the team’s players have 20 caps or less and most of the rest are 30 years old or older. There are very few players right in the middle, right at their peek.
9. This team is in form
The Netherlands were undefeated through World Cup qualifying as they led UEFA Group D, only dropping two points in eight games. They were also unbeaten in 12 games in 2013.
10. Always the bridesmaid
Finishing runners-up to Spain in the 2010 World Cup made it three World Cup finals and no World Cup trophies for the Netherlands. The Netherlands has also won 22 World Cup games, the most by a nation without a title.