Having missed out in Russia four years back, the Netherlands travel to the Qatar World Cup with lofty expectations from their ardent fans.
The Dutch finished runners-up in 2010 and third place in 2014. They are back at the world’s biggest stage to make another deep run this time out.
Louis Van Gaal is back at the helm again, taking over from Frank De Boer after the Oranje crashed out for Euro 2020 in the round of 16 to the Czech Republic.
Van Gaal who also coached the national team in 2014 World Cup, returned to the post for the third time last year in August.
Since then, the 71-year-old has employed a 5-3-2 formation that has worked wonders for the 1988 European Championship winners.
He had earlier started off with his preferred 4-3-3 system which provoked criticism from captain and Liverpool star Virgil Van Dijk.
However, the former Manchester United manager now feels that his team has more balance in the 4-3-3 setup, the same system which helped the Dutch to a third-place finish in Brazil eight years back.
Netherlands finished top of Group G in their qualification round, 2 points ahead of Turkey, winning 7 out of 10 games, drawing twice and losing once.
Memphis Depay has been the focal point of attack for the Dutch, but the striker has hardly featured for Barcelona this season. Van Dijk and Stefan De Vrij form a solid back line while Denzel Dumfries and Nathan Ake should complement the towering center-backs in the back line.
Frenkie De Jong once would certainly play the pivotal role in the middle of the park while the one to look out for would certainly be Cody Gakpo.
The 23-year-old PSV Eindhoven forward has attracted interest from a host of Premier League clubs including Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Gakpo already has 12 goals and nine assists this season and all eyes would be on him in Qatar whether he can shine in the biggest of stages.
Johan Cruyff remains a cult status back home capturing the imagination of the world in the 1974 World Cup where the Dutch finished second. Their style of play later came to be known as ‘total football’ created a fluid system where the outfield players were devoid of any fixed role on the pitch.
While Rinus Michels was the brain behind the system, it was Cruyff who mastered the art on the pitch. Netherlands also finished runners up in 1978 to Mario Kempes’ Argentina, with Cruyff ironically missing out in the tournament.
What to expect
A fluid attacking team wearing the Orange jersey that will catch the eye and make heads roll. Having been placed with Ecuador, Senegal and hosts Qatar in Group A, the Oranje should top their group with eye catching football.
Defensively expect them to dominate the opposition playing out from the back with the wing backs joining the attack every time they have the ball.
Up front, Gakpo, Bergwijn and Depay will rotate their positions to drag out oppositions defenders out of their positions to make space for overlapping runners on either wings.
Hipster Predictions: Louis Van Gaal’s side should finish top of their group and will face the runners up from Group B that comprise of England, Wales, USA and Iran for a place in quarter finals.
The Dutch would back themselves to beat either of the teams and should they do, they would meet Argentina in what would be a repeat of the blockbuster semifinal from 2014.
Photo credit: IMAGO / ANP
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