The Netherlands were the first European side to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup booking their place at Brazil 2014 with two games to spare. They finished unbeaten; nine wins and one draw, 34 goals scored and only five conceded. However the disappointments of UEFA EURO 2012 still lingers, and while the public retains some hope in the Oranje, very few expect the South Africa 2010 runners-up to reach the final in Rio de Janeiro on 13 July.

‘Transition has been the key word since Louis van Gaal returned in2012 for his second spell with the national team. A raft of players have made their international debuts under the coach – several of them younger that 24 – reflecting a team placed between two generations and building for future tournaments. This FIFA World Cup could be the swansong for much of the side that shone in South Africa, including Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van Vaart and Arjen Robben.

Van Gaal will certainly step down after the tournament and return to club football, but not before doing his outmost to leave his imprint. Not that it will be easy. With the Netherlands drawn in Group B with Spain, Chile and Australia, they will be reacquainted with the world and European champions, against whom they suffered that agonising Final defeat four years ago.

There is also the threat of Chile, completing what Van Gaal labelled a bad draw. “If we qualify we could end up meeting Brazil, the tournament favourites, [in the Round of 16] which makes the task even more difficult, “he said. “So, it’s not the best of draws from a Dutch perspective: I would have preferred Group H.”
“This FIFA World Cup could be the swansong for much of the side that shone in South Africa”

COACH >>

LOUIS VAN GAAL

Van Gaal is one of the modern football’s greatest tacticians, his innovative concepts guiding AFC Ajax to the UEFA Championships League title in 1994/95. His initial spell with the Oranje saw him fail to reach the 2002 FIFA World Cup, but roles with AZ Alkamaar and FC Bayern Munchen rebuilt his reputation.

Tactics

Louis van Gaal’s approach is essentially the ‘Ajax model’: an emphasis on creativity and cleverness inside a proactive and fluid 4-3-3 system. The wingers provide width, supplying a natural forward who again is supported by two advanced playmakers. Behind lies a midfield anchor. The players come together as one; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

KEY PLAYER>>

ARJEN ROBBEN

Robben is still the spark of the Dutch side; an outstanding individualist who can produce moments of magic from a virtual standstill. His trademark movement of cutting inside from the right may seem predictable, but few defenders are capable of tracking the fleet-footed winger. At his optimum, he remains a nightmare for defenders. He makes the Netherlands a legitimate force, and they are an altogether different proposition with him.