(Over the next month or so, we’re going to be doing previews for all 32 teams participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yes, all 32 teams. We’ll make you laugh, cry, get mad and perhaps question why you read us in the first place. We hope you enjoy the product nonetheless)
Ah, the Netherlands. Holland. The Dutch. Oranje. They’re known by several different names, but all the Netherlands’ national football team cares about is at long last winning that elusive first World Cup. Three appearances in the competition’s final in 1974, 1978, and 2010 bore no fruit, and with manager Louis van Gaal moving on after the festivities end in Brazil, there is pressure on the Dutchmen. But they face an uphill battle to get back to the final. More next.
Goalkeepers: Jasper Cillessen (Ajax), Tim Krul (Newcastle United), Michel Vorm (Swansea City), Jeroen Zoet (PSV)
Defenders: Patrick van Aanholt (Vitesse), Daley Blind (Ajax), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord), Bruno Martins Indi (Feyenoord), Terence Kongolo (Feyenoord), Karim Rekik (PSV), Joel Veltman (Ajax), Paul Verhaegh (Augsburg), Stefan de Vrij (Feyenoord), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa)
Midfielders: Jean-Paul Boëtius (Feyenoord), Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Leroy Fer (Norwich City), Jonathan de Guzman (Swansea City), Nigel de Jong (Milan), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), Rafael van der Vaart (Hamburg), Tonny Vilhena (Feyenoord), Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV)
Forwards: Memphis Depay (PSV), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kyiv), Robin van Persie (Manchester United), Quincy Promes (Twente)
Manager: Louis van Gaal
2010 refresher: Oh, so close. Andrés Iniesta broke Dutch hearts everywhere with his winner four minutes from the end of extra time in the 2010 final. The Netherlands emerged as Group E champions that year, beating Japan, Denmark, and Cameroon to the top. After holding off Slovakia in the round of 16, the Dutchmen rode two Wesley Sneijder goals past Brazil and hung three on Uruguay to advance to the final. Sneijder was one of only four players, along with Uruguay’s Diego Forlán, Germany’s Thomas Müller, and Spain’s David Villa, to score five times in the competition.
Goalkeepers: Van Gaal is keeping his options open in goal, and there is no clear-cut #1 as we sit three weeks from the beginning of the World Cup. Cillessen was in goal for Dutch champions Ajax last term, so perhaps he has a leg up on the competition. Plus, he kept a whopping 14 clean sheets in 25 appearances after manager Frank de Boer turned to him in September. Furthermore, he only conceded once per every 3.17 saves. And his name is Jasper. Can’t go wrong with Jasper.
Elsewhere, Tim Krul and Michel Vorm have both run up decent records in the Premier League while being stuck on middling sides, and Zoet was more than solid for PSV. Holland’s goalkeeping situation is one to keep an eye on. A few different directions van Gaal can go here.
Defenders: Daley Blind is a name you need to know. The “Dutch Lahm”, as some have called this 24 year-old, has been utilized as a left-back and holding mid to great effectiveness at Amsterdam ArenA, and was named Dutch Footballer of the Year for the 2013-14 season. You can read a great profile on him by Mohamed Moallim (@iammoallim) here, and where LVG plays him could be crucial.
Aston Villa’s Ron Vlaar is the back line’s most-capped member with 22 appearances to his name, so this is a young defence. Right behind him is one of the four Feyenoord backs named to the provisional squad, Bruno Martins Indi. Capped 14 times, the 22 year-old is a very strong passer; he’s good at crosses into the area and generating chances and can get involved in the attack. Karim Rekik, on loan from Manchester City, turned 19 in December and is an intriguing name for 2018.
Midfielders: A midfield with everyone’s favourite left-footed Sphynx cat, Wesley Sneijder, and Rafael van der Vaart is bound to produce. Robben scored twice in 2010 and is fresh off an 11-goal campaign in Munich. Less than 500 miles to the north, van der Vaart completed his second season at Hamburg with seven goals as his club avoided relegation by the skin of its teeth. And Sneijder was great in Turkey this past campaign, scoring 17 times in all comps. There’s so much experience and skill among those three.
Moving on, Nigel de Jong is back to kick people in the chest. And Leroy Fer flew under the radar at Championship-bound Norwich after his transfer from Twente. He made 28 league appearances for the Canaries and scored thrice. He also averaged three tackles, three long balls, and an interception per contest.
Forwards: Robin van Persie is healthy! Maybe! The captain netted only one goal in South Africa four years ago; he must have a better showing this time around. I mean, Nicklas Bendtner scored as many times as RVP did in 2010.
(I shouldn’t poke fun at Bendtner. After all, he IS the greatest striker on the planet.)
Otherwise, Holland’s forward corps is an exercise in “hey, I remember when you were really, really good!” Dirk Kuyt, the former Liverpool man, has been decent in Turkey the past two seasons; he’s potted 27 goals in all comps at Fener. And Klaas-Jan Huntelaar–he of the 48 goals two seasons ago–has 30 goals combined since that wonderful 2011-12 campaign. But, to be fair, Huntelaar missed five months this season due to a partially-torn right MCL. And Jeremain Lens, who has never been really good, appeared only 19 times and scored four goals for Dynamo Kyiv this year.
A note on Memphis Depay: the 20-year old winger is a Manchester United target (perhaps unsurprisingly, considering who will be taking over there in about eight weeks), and he has this distinction:
Manager: LVG organized his club into a 5-3-2 in last week’s friendly with Ecuador, and he’s likely going to stick with that. With Roma’s superb midfielder Kevin Strootman unavailable due to a torn ACL sustained in March, LVG has had to improvise, so he’ll just add another defender (probably a Feyenoord man; have you seen how many players they had picked??). Again, no indication that he’ll abandon the 5-3-2, either.
Outlook: Should the Netherlands progress from the group stage, it will probably face Brazil. So, good luck getting back to the final. And the faster the Dutch are eliminated, the faster Old Trafford gets the Louis van Gaal experience.