Liam Power looks at Holland and what their chances are this time around.
When you think about the Dutch National side it always conjures up images of supremely talented footballers but with a dark side that always seem to hinder their chances before they have even started. This is reflected throughout their history as the best football nation never to win a World Cup.
Oranje are very much a unique group, incredibly liberal in their attitude to ‘adult hobbies’ and also built with a confidence that often borders on complete arrogance. I don’t mean this as an offence to any Dutch readers and in fact any Dutch people I have met have acknowledged this ‘arrogance’ with pride.
I went on a tour of the Amsterdam Arena in March, and everything about the interior of the stadium and the tour itself was centred on the opinion that ‘we are better than the rest’ and we want to remind people of this at every opportunity. Again, this was done via a mixture of pride, confidence and subtle arrogance.
Of course being such incredibly confident characters has often been at the heart of their downfall when looking well placed to finally land a World Cup trophy. From a nation that has produced some of the best ever players in Cruyff, Gullit, Van Basten and Bergkamp (to name just a few) they also have a long standing reputation for player revolts and individual skirmishes that regularly divide the squad and deprive them of a single star player as tournaments begin.
World Cup History
Three World Cups feature prominently in their history and all for the same reason.
The Dutch brought the term ‘Totaalvoetbal‘ into the game in the 1970s, as national team coach Rinus Michels introduced a breathtaking style of play that was so successfully mimicked by the incredible Barcelona teams of recent years. Feyenoord and Ajax pioneered this style of play in the domestic game with Johan Cruyff seen as the figurehead of this new style of football.
This saw the National Team come into the 1974 competition with real confidence which was enhanced with victories over both Brazil (holders) and Argentina in the second group stage. The Dutch faced West Germany in the final and found a foe who were equally as confident as them but ultimately more clinical in their work. This saw the Germans run out 2-1 winners following a late Gerd Muller strike.
The Dutch were amongst the favourites for the World Cup in 1978 but were denied the services of their star player Cruyff throughout the tournaments, as well as Van Hanegem and Van Beveren who refused to play in Argentina.
The same accusations were levelled at Cruyff but he has since come out and refuted those claims by admitting that he and his family were subject to a kidnapping attempt that changed his outlook on life and was behind his decision not to travel to Argentina.
Despite missing Cruyff and suffering an early defeat to an Archie Gemmell inspired Scotland, the Dutch regained their composure and hit a vein of form that enabled them to top a second round group containing Italy and West Germany.
Even without Cruyff the team boasted the talents of Ruud Krol, Win Jansen, Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep and Wim Suurbier. They faced the hosts Argentina in the final and came agonisingly close to lifting the cup but saw the post deny Rensenbrink a winning goal in the last minute of normal time. Extra time proved too much and Argentina ran out 3-1 winners to bring a second consecutive disappointment for the Dutch.
Under coach Bert Van Marwijk the Dutch stormed into the 2010 World Cup with a 100% qualifying record and maintained this quality by getting all the way to the final, beating the highly fancied Brazilians in the Quarter-Finals. However, they were widely criticized for their robust approach to (literally) tackling Spain in the final and most neutrals were pleased to see Iniesta score a winner in extra time to hand the Dutch their 3rdfinal defeat in the World Cup.
So what of their chances this time around? There is no doubt that the current squad lacks the big names of past tournaments, especially in midfield and defence which means they will be susceptible against the very top teams.
In Van Persie, Sneijder and Robben they have proven match winners and Van Persie could easily be the top scorer in this tournament if he hits a run of form early on.
Van Gaal has courted real controversy by ditching the traditional Dutch 4-3-3 in favour of a 5-3-2 system that reflects the real lack of quality at the back that he hopes will be overcome by quantity.
Nigel De Jong will sit in front of the three central defenders that allows Sneijder to play behind a very potent pairing of Robben and Van Persie, giving them a real cutting edge.
This is not going to be the Holland that we all know and love, although if they can keep things tight at the back they have the quality to score goals at the other end.
Whatever system Holland operates with they will face a significant task to just get out of their group.
They face holders Spain on Friday in a match they will do well to avoid defeat. Following this they face an Australian side who can be capable on their day and will hope to exploit any pressure Holland would be under from a first game defeat.
Then finally they have to face Chile who are most people’s dark horse to do well in this competition. Chile will not fear facing up to their more fancied opponents and would relish the chance of a last game shootout to progress into the last 16.
Should they get out of the group by finishing second then it is almost certain they will face hosts and favourites Brazil so they have a lot to do to make any progression in this years competition.
I am going to stick my neck out and say that the Dutch will flop and fail to get out of the group, denied a place in the last 16 by a last game defeat to Chile.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.