There were not many pundits that expected the Netherlands to go this far in the 2014 World Cup. Pitted alongside the holders Spain and a vibrant Chile team, there was a sense that Louis van Gaal’s progressive Dutch side would fall just short in the group stage, but this campaign would make for the core of young players that make up this squad.
But this team has performed beyond all expectations, and on the brink of their quarter-final clash with Costa Rica, there is growing belief amongst the Oranje ranks that this group is capable of going all the way in this competition.
They have accrued some major momentum heading into this clash with Los Ticos having won all of their games so far, the last one in hugely dramatic fashion; a goal from Wesley Sneijder in the 88th minute and another from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in the 93rd minute sent the Dutch through to the quarter-final at the expense of Mexico.
Here’s a full round-up of how the Netherlands have fared throughout this tournament and a look towards that enticing quarter-final clash with the Costa Ricans.
Likely Line-Up vs. Costa Rica:
What have they done well?
Van Gaal has taken a common sense approach to this tournament, taking stock of the kinds of players he has and implementing a system to accentuate the talents of as many of them as possible. The result has been a 5-2-1-2 formation, centred around three central defenders that are comfortable on the ball and possess a rounded blend of attributes.
The midfield is tailored towards getting the ball into the front-two as often as possible. Nigel de Jong—while he looks set to miss the rest of the tournament—blocks the middle off with his supreme defensive instincts, Jonathan de Guzman uses his energy maintain a degree of balance in an area where the Dutch are often outnumbered, and Sneijder uses his playmaking abilities to get the ball into the front-two in dangerous areas.
And it’s in those advanced positions that the Netherlands have really hurt teams; when the opposition are high up the pitch and the Oranje implement those swift transitions. Arjen Robben has been scintillating in the tournament so far and seems to be revelling in his role as an orthodox centre-forward. His blistering surges in turn create space for Robin van Persie, who has been back to his prolific best at this World Cup.
Van Gaal has also been able to use his tactical acumen to swing games in his team’s favor. Despite initially setting his stall out in the aforementioned system, the Dutch boss has switched formation three times mid-game, and on each occasion his side have gone on to win the match from a losing or level position.
Which players have shone?
Robben has grown into a real talisman for this Dutch side and he’s looked like a player in the form of his life during this World Cup. While his patent for hitting the deck after the slightest touch is a trait that riles supporters, when the Bayern Munich man picks the ball up on the halfway line with space to gallop into, there are few more exhilarating sights in the game.
Typically a wide player, the role afforded to Robben in this Netherlands side as a centre-forward gives him increased freedom. He doesn’t have to concentrate on his defensive duties and subsequently, he’s able to astutely position himself all over the pitch for when the Dutch look to counter.
Van Persie has benefitted from Robben’s industry, finding plenty of space in dangerous areas. The Manchester United man his rediscovered his clinical edge in front of goal too, netting three times in three appearances in this World Cup so far.
It’s the striking duo that have naturally been grabbing the headlines, but there have been some understatedly impressive performers too. Young defenders Stefan De Vrij and Bruno Martins-Indi have both been extremely impressive as a part of the Dutch back-three, while De Jong was a colossal figure at the heart of the Oranje midfield, one they’ll be hard-pressed to replace.
Where can they improve?
Despite scoring a vital goal in the last-16 clash with Mexico, the Dutch will be looking for a little more from Sneijder. Their game has been all about fast transitions in this tournament and a player of his indisputable ability should be a catalyst for those swift bursts forward, not a hindrance to them.
Van Gaal will also be hoping that his team can start the game with a little more purpose. The Dutch have been behind in three of their four matches so far, and while the intelligence of their manager and unshakeable spirit they’ve fashioned has managed to drag them over the line, against the elite sides, they will be punished for a sluggish opening.
They’re also going to have to replace De Jong in the quarter-final, a player who has been vital to the cause. He’s the man that wins the ball back for the Netherlands in the middle of the park and puts the wheels in motion for these devastating flashes forward. With no natural replacement in the squad, it’ll be intriguing to see who Van Gaal chooses to fill the void left by the Milan man.
What problems can they pose Costa Rica?
Here’s how the two sides are likely to line up for the quarter-final:
Stylistically, the Dutch will have to overcome similar challenges to what they faced against Mexico in the last-16. Costa Rica are a vibrant, industrious team that make it very hard for the opposition to establish any kind of rhythm in their play.
Patience could be the key again in this one. Los Ticos are going to fly out the blocks and get after the Netherlands, a ploy that could make for a tight game. But as the clock ticks by, they will surely tire and that’s when the Oranje’s better players and Van Gaal’s tactical mastery can come to the fore.
The Dutch will have a lot more of the ball in this one than they did against Mexico, so Van Gaal will be looking for the likes of Sneijder and De Guzman to probe this Costa Rican back-line and take advantage of the intelligent positions that Robben and Van Persie are guaranteed to take up.