Louis van Gaal goes to the World Cup as the manager of what is often referred to as the best country never to win the World Cup…
The Netherlands, often known (albeit incorrectly) in the international soccer world as Holland, go into the World Cup ranked as 3rd best in their group by FIFA, but with a strong squad that defies that ranking.
They qualified automatically through the EUFA section, with the most amount of points (28, level with Germany’s tally in Group C) AND with the largest gap at the top of their group (9, also tied with Belgium in Group A).
Their qualifying campaign was very near to perfect, only dropping point away to Estonia, during September of last year which turned out to be a bogey month for the boys in orange. The draw with Estonia was stolen late into injury time, thanks to a goal from Robin Van Persie and they also recorded a disappointingly low scoreline against whipping-boys Andorra, with two Van Persie goals being all they could achieve.
For those unfamiliar; Andorra is a nation of just 85,ooo people and sits on the France-Spain border and they didn’t manage a single point in all 10 qualifying games.
Other than that though, Louis Van Gaal’s men tore it up in Group D, hitting four past runners-up Romania twice and away to Hungary, cruising to six clean sheets and also an 8-1 crushing of Hungary at home.
They have lost Van der Vaart to injury but the new Manchester United manager is not left with a shortage of talent, his squad boasting the sheer class of attackers Rob van Persie of Man Utd and Arjen Robben of Bayern Munich. They are joined up top by veterans Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
In midfield they have the magnificent Wesley Sneijder, a fantastic attacking midfielder currently with Galatasaray, who has much experience on the big stage, which will be invaluable right from the off. They also have a number of players with Premier League experience including Aston Villa’s dependable captain Ron Vlaar, excellent Swansea City stopper Michel Vorm and Milan-man Nigel De Jong who appeared over a hundred times for current champions, Manchester City.
They have been drawn in Group B alongside holders Spain, as well as Chile and Australia. As the competitions outsiders, the Socceroos shouldn’t pose too much of a threat to the Dutch. Spain will be out and out favorites to top the group, leaving Chile as the team they will be watching very closely. The two countries meet on June 23rd, the final group game for them both, in what is fully expected by most to be the decider for the 2nd place spot and advancement to the knockout stages.
Will this be the year the Dutch finally get their name on the trophy? As more of an outside bet than they have been over the last few decades, will the lowered expectations and pressure serve them well and allow them to achieve their full potential?