It is somewhat incredible to think that the Netherlands World Cup run has become something of a surprise. After all, they were in the final of the 2010 World Cup and only narrowly lost in extra time.
Their 2012 Euro campaign was beyond disappointing after they lost all three of their group stage matches, but they blazed through the qualifying rounds to become the first European team to qualify. Even so, the Dutch people had very little hope that this team could do anything in the World Cup.
However, this 2014 World Cup team has progressed and generally done so by playing as team that wants to win. Arjen Robben especially looks like a player with a point to prove and he will do whatever he can to lead this team to victory.
A return to the World Cup final means they first need to get past Costa Rica then face the winner of Argentina v Belgium and this will not be a simple task by any means.
There have been some similarities between these two teams, both of which play with 5 defenders, the big difference being that the Oranje use wingbacks while the Ticos use fullbacks. This is a match that the Dutch will need to go out and attack from the start. Costa Rica will not make it easy on them, but the Dutch cannot sit back and let them dictate the play in the same way Mexico was allowed to.
Tactically speaking, Louis van Gaal got half his strategy right against Mexico, but also benefited greatly from the Mexicans own tactical errors. On the other side of the pitch, Jorge Luis Pinto has done quite well managing his own tactics, which is much of the reason why they have made it to the quarterfinals.
The key for the Netherlands in this match is going to be in breaking down Costa Rica’s strong back line and hopefully exploiting the loss of Oscar Duarte in the center. They will need to do this while also being careful to avoid Costa Rica’s quick counterattack, particularly with the quality of Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz up front.
I see the Netherlands having enough firepower up front as well as the defensive ability to shut down Costa Rica. A 2-1 win in normal time is my prediction.
Semi-Finals: Argentina or Belgium?
Neither Argentina nor Belgium has fully impressed this tournament, but then again, who has? Argentina has had to rely heavily on Lionel Messi to carry them this far while Belgium has put in solid team performances, but both have often left it late to get a winner.
With the tactical nous of van Gaal, it is a toss-up as to which team the Dutch would prefer to face. Both teams are full of attacking threats, but also have weaknesses to exploit. Neither one stands out as a truly fearful or even a truly weak team. It might be a better match-up if they were able to get Belgium considering Marc Wilmots sometimes lack of tactical intelligence, at least compared to others in this tournament.
My own World Cup prediction at this point is that the Netherlands will land their first ever World Cup victory. I know it is a long shot. There are still far too many question marks and weaknesses in this team, but I would argue that the same can be said for every one of these quarter-finalists.
There has not been a team that has set themselves apart and many of these teams have already played extra-time matches, which is one thing the Netherlands has avoided. They also have a manager who has not been afraid to make changes and whose changes have been so positive in creating positive outcomes.
When you look at this team there hasn’t been one great performance, aside from the second half of that group stage match against Spain. If you like clichés you can take this and note that championship teams will always find a way to win, even when they are not playing well.
Perhaps my analysis is blinded by my fandom, but I certainly hope not. This is a team that I have grown to enjoy watching and they always seem to bring something unexpected. The Dutch are a team full of hope at this point, but they are also just one match away from becoming another disappointing statistic.
I hope that they do not turn into just another Holland team for the Dutch people to say, “I told you so.” Even more than that, I do hope this is a team for the Dutch to feel proud of, much the way we Americans can feel proud of our own team’s performance.