After missing out on Russia four years ago, the Netherlands travel to the World Cup in Qatar with high expectations from their adoring fans.
The Dutch finished runners-up in 2010 and third in 2014. They are back on the world’s biggest stage to make another deep run this time.
Louis Van Gaal is back at the helm, taking over from Frank De Boer after Oranje crashed out of Euro 2020 in the round of 16 against the Czech Republic.
Van Gaal, who also coached the national team at the 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 previously started with his preferred 4-3-3 system, drawing criticism from Liverpool captain and star Virgil Van Dijk.
However, the former Manchester United manager now feels his side have more balance in the 4-3-3 setup, the same system that helped the Dutch finish third in Brazil eight years ago.Rating Review
The Netherlands finished top of Group G in their qualifying round, 2 points ahead of Turkey, winning 7 of 10 games, drawing two and losing one.
Memphis Depay has been the center of attack for the Dutch, but the striker has hardly played for Barcelona this season. Van Dijk and Stefan De Vrij form a solid backline, while Denzel Dumfries and Nathan Ake should complement the imposing center backs in the backline.
Frenkie De Jong would once again undoubtedly play the pivotal role in the middle of the park, while the one to watch out for would be Cody Gakpo.
The 23-year-old PSV Eindhoven striker has attracted the interest of 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 if he can shine on the biggest of stages.
Johan Cruyff remains cult status at home and captured the world’s imagination at the 1974 World Cup, where the Dutch finished third. Later his style of play became known as “total football” and he created a fluid system in which outfield players lacked a fixed role on the field.
While Rinus Michels was the brains behind the system, it was Cruyff who mastered the art on the pitch. The Netherlands also finished runners-up in 1978 against Mario Kempes’ Argentina, with Cruyff ironically out of the tournament.
what to expect
A fluid attacking team in the orange jersey that will turn heads and turn heads. Having been placed with Ecuador, Senegal and hosts Qatar in Group A, the Oranje should top their group with some eye-catching football.
Defensively expect them to dominate the opposition by playing from behind with the full-backs joining the attack whenever they have the ball.
Up front, Gakpo, Bergwijn and Depay will rotate their positions to push opposition defenders out of position and make room for overlapping runners on either wing.
Hipster Predictions: Louis Van Gaal’s team should finish top of their group and will face the Group B runners-up of England, Wales, USA and Iran for a place in the quarter-finals.
The Dutch would back up to beat either team and if they did, they would meet Argentina in what would be a repeat of the successful semi-final from 2014.
Photo credit: IMAGO/ANP