Could this be a decisive year for the Dutch?
From Total Football to tiki-taka, from van Basten to van Dijk, the history of football in the Netherlands is intimately linked to the world game. But despite reaching three World Cup finals, the last in 2010, the Dutch men’s national team, known locally as Oranje, has yet to win the biggest prize in international football.
Disaster struck in 2016 and 2018, when the team failed to qualify for the European Championship and the World Cup. This is a steady rise from FIFA’s all-time low of 36, reached in 2017 during the World Cup qualifying debacle. Two national team legends, Ronald Koeman and Frank de Boer, have been in charge since 2018. Now, after a disappointment in the Euro 2020 knockout stage, Louis van Gaal is at the helm for his third term . His team stumbled a few times in qualifying (draw against Montenegro and Norway), but eventually finished first in their group. They also topped their Nations League group, beating Belgium, Poland and Wales to secure a place in the semi-finals.
It’s been eight years since the Dutch won a knockout tie in a major international competition. A supportive group and a more experienced squad could well spell success in Qatar.
Group A schedule (all times Eastern)
– Senegal, Nov. 21, 11 a.m.
– Ecuador, November 25, 11 a.m.
– Qatar, November 29, 10 a.m.
Louis van Gaalhired in August 2021
Players to watch
Virgil van Dijk, central defender
An anchor in the Dutch defense for half a decade, the Liverpool star has all the qualities necessary for a modern central defender. At 6’4”, his strength, speed and composure make him a force on the back line. Alongside Juventus’ Matthijs de Ligt and Inter Milan’s Stefan de Vrij, the scary trio of centre-backs is one of the best in world football.
Frenkie de Jong, midfielder
Even after a bizarre transfer saga, de Jong is expected to be one of the Oranje’s most important pieces. The silky Barcelona midfielder was central to van Gaal’s qualifying squad. His precise passing and ability on the ball in tight spaces will be crucial as he will usually sit in the middle of a three-man midfield.
Memphis Depay, striker
He lit up qualifying under van Gaal, scoring 12 goals and registering six assists in 10 appearances, but he is largely an afterthought at Barcelona, raising questions about his preparation for this competition. He is, however, one of the most seasoned goalscorers for the Netherlands in the international game, and will be one of the few players with previous World Cup experience. If things go well, Depay could be something of a dark horse for the tournament’s golden boot.
Candidate in small groups
Cody Gakpo, winger
The 23-year-old PSV star has been heavily linked with Manchester United and other big-money clubs across Europe, and for good reason. His goal contributions (15 goals, 14 assists) so far this season rival one of the best in the world, helping PSV to the top of the table, and if he is able to translate that form into the World Cup , the bidding war for his services will only intensify.
world cup history
– 11th appearance
– Last appearance: 2014
– Best result: Vice-champion in 1974, 1978 and 2010
Outlook and expectations
This is the round of 16 for the Oranje, who have never been knocked out in the group stage in the last 10 World Cup appearances..
Most recently, at last year’s European Championship, the Dutch went through their group with three wins on an 8-2 goal differential. They were arguably the better side for the first half against the Czech Republic in the round of 16 before a red card from Ligt caused a second-half collapse.
The group is there for van Gaal’s team to lead the table. Senegal and Ecuador are no pushovers, but they are by far the most favorable group for a side coming out of Pot 2 in the April draw. Their three Group A compatriots have won a total of seven World Cup matches in their combined history, compared to 27 for the Netherlands.
If the Dutch do what is expected and win the group, they will meet the second-place team from a Group B which includes England, USA, Wales and Iran in the Round of 16. But perhaps the biggest question mark will remain: is the team’s attacking threat viable against some of the best teams in the world?
In 2010, midfielder Wesley Sneijder led the way with five goals. In 2014, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie led a star attack. Depay put up big numbers in this year’s qualifying run but four of his goals came from the penalty spot and no other striker has finished with more than three goals in 10 appearances. It remains to be seen whether a Dutch attack centered on Depay has enough firepower to take on the knockout stage of a major international tournament.
The Dutch are far from the favorites in Qatar, but anything less than a deep run in the knockout stage would again amount to the all too familiar feeling of disappointment.
World Cup team
GUARDIANSJustin Bijlow (Feyenoord), Andries Noppert (Heerenveen), Remko Pasveer (Ajax)
DEFENDERS: Nathan Aké (Manchester City), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Denzel Dumfries (Inter Milan), Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen), Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich), Tyrell Malacia (Manchester United), Jurriën Timber (Ajax), Stefan de Vrij (Inter Milan), Daley Blind (Ajax)
MIDFIELDS: Steven Berghuis (Ajax), Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Xavi Simons (PSV Eindhoven), Kenneth Taylor (Ajax)
FORWARDERS: Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Memphis Depay (Barcelona), Cody Gakpo (PSV), Vincent Janssen (Antwerp), Luuk de Jong (PSV), Noa Lang (Club Brugge), Wout Weghorst (Beşiktaş)
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