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.