The Oranje. The Royal Netherlands Football Team (KNVB), aka Netherlands or Holland, is a team well known for its moments of brilliance, but so often eclipsed by moments of madness. Their fans can always be seen wildly cheering on their team decked out in orange with a smattering of red, white, and blue. Well known for their raucous celebrations, but also for their ability to recognize and appreciate good soccer.
A Brief History Lesson
The Netherlands is a country that is well known for its open society and acceptance of others, yet there is still an arrogance and patriotism that is embodied by the national team. The country itself is known as the Netherlands, yet they are willing to allow their national team to be referred to as Holland. In actuality, Holland is just a portion of the country itself with North Holland and South Holland being two of the provinces within the country of the Netherlands.
The color orange, which they are so famously associated with, comes from the royal line of Orange-Nassau going back to William I of Orange in 1544. This remains prominent in the country with their current King, Willem-Alexander, carrying on the Orange-Nassau lineage.
In continuing with the history lesson, the Dutch national team has become something of an enigma. The Netherlands is a small, but densely populated country, but has managed to produce some of the world’s greatest players and teams. They have played some of the most beautiful soccer, yet so often they seem to implode and fall short, particularly in the World Cup. Three times they have finished as runners-up (the most for any team that has not won the World Cup), yet their failings with some of the greatest players in the world is what has defined them ever since the days of Johan Cruyff and Total Football in the 70’s.
This 2014 team is not short on star power, but there are a number of lesser known, younger players that round out this squad. Most fans know about Robin van Persie (30), Arjen Robben (30), Wesley Sneijder (29), as well as Rafael van der Vaart (31). These four, along with Dirk Kuyt (33), are the veteran players that make up the core of the team. They are joined by several younger players like Jeremain Lens (26), Daryl Janmaat (24), Patrick van Aanholt (23), Jordy Clasie (22), and even Terence Kongolo (20) and Tonny Vilhena (19). This is a squad that has a large contingent from the Dutch Eredivisie, with 16 players from the league including 7 from Feyenoord.
In Louis van Gaal’s first stint as the Dutch coach, from 2000-02, his hard-headed, no nonsense, direct approach led to rebellion and poor results from a group of individually talented players who just couldn’t play as a team. As a result they failed to even qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
This year’s squad is much more of a team built by van Gaal, for van Gaal. They are mostly young and impressionable, meaning that he can be the teacher he prefers to be and guide them as their coach and leader. It has certainly helped that this is a team whose captain, Robin van Persie, has a very close relationship with van Gaal.
In qualifying for the World Cup, the Netherlands dominated their group with a 9-1-0 record while scoring 34 goals and allowing just 5. They have played a rather tactically fluid style of play similar to the total football of their past. Holland has often set up with something like a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, but it seems likely that he will go with more of a 5-3-2 in the World Cup that can transition into a 3-5-2 in attack. Being without Kevin Strootman in the middle of the pitch is one of the main reasons why van Gaal may make the switch to a 5-3-2. His presence will be missed, but the hope is that bringing in quick midfielders and defenders on the wings can be beneficial in spreading the play out wide. In his place, Nijel de Jong will have to take control of the midfield. He should have learned much since his mistakes in 2010.
The players at van Gaal’s disposal point to the possibility of setting up to adapt to their opponents style of play. They have the players, and talent, to play a possession based game with high tempo passing and moving as well as being able to shift to a more pragmatic and defensive approach of soaking up pressure then pushing for a quick counter attack.
All in all, this is a young team full of both raw talent and experienced veterans going out one last time. While they could turn some heads, they were given a very difficult group to progress through. They should be able to finish as runners-up, but all this will really lead to is a second round meeting with Brazil. This is my World Cup prediction for them, but does require them to get past both Chile and Australia, which will not be an easy task (you can also fill out a free printable World Cup bracket to make your own predictions).
The lack of pressure on this Netherlands squad could mean that they really surprise and go far. I believe that in the end this should be a good World Cup for the Netherlands, but will ultimately end with them being dumped out in the knockout stages.
Attack. The spine of this team is filled with mostly veteran players, and is especially strong up front with attacking options including Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Inexperience. There are a large number of players who will be experiencing their first World Cup as well as 21 players who have less than 15 caps.
Possible Starting Lineup
GK: Tim Krul;
Defenders: Bruno Martins Indi, Daryl Janmaat, Ron Vlaar, Daley Blind, Terence Kongolo;
Midfielders: Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Nigel de Jong;
Forwards: Jeremain Lens, Robin van Persie