3-0, 4-0: It’s all nice and easy for Oranje
While most other countries struggle and are involved in qualification scraps, The Netherlands are flying once again. Before the home games versus Estonia and Romania, there were no real concerns in the Dutch camp and confidence was high. This is now even more true after another two comprehensive victories. Estonia were beaten 3-0, Romania even conceded four without reply. With six wins out of six, four games to go and a margin of seven points to number two Hungary, the Netherlands are all but qualified for the World Cup in Brazil next year.
Van Gaal’s second tenure as national manager has been somewhat different to the first. As Simon Gleave of Dutch blog ‘De Zestien’ pointed out: In 2000, he had to face the two strongest opponents possible following the group draw in the qualifications in Portugal and Ireland. This time around, Turkey and Hungary were the third weakest and weakest team possible in their respective pots. After a shaky start against Turkey that nevertheless resulted in a 2-0 win, the Netherlands have been dominant, allowing van Gaal to freshen up the squad. Against Estonia, only three of the starting eleven were regulars one year ago during the disastrous Euro 201 campaign. And to emphasise the point that Van Gaal is putting his own stamp on the team, six of the players starting were handed their debuts by Van Gaal in his second reign.
The 4-3-3 formation saw Vermeer start in goal, with Daryl Janmaat, Stefan De Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi and Daley Blind in front of him. with Kevin Strootman and Jonathan de Guzman in midfield. The former was the first in this line-up to make his debut before the Van Gaal-era, the latter is a naturalised Canadian who came to the Netherlands aged 12. The attacking midfielder slot was given to Wesley Sneijder, although he trotted off with injury in the 34th minute and was replaced by Rafael Van der Vaart. The attack was spearheaded by Robin Van Persie, who was flanked by Arjen Robben and Jeremain Lens. Against Romania, the same eleven started, with the exception of Sneijder. Van der Vaart replaced the playmaker, just as he had done against Estonia.
Hamburg midfielder van der Vaart was one of the standout players for Oranje. In both matches, he opened the score and his link-up play with Robin van Persie was very good. Van Persie has been on a slump at Manchester United lately, scoring only one goal in his last eleven games and he did look a bit knackered versus Estonia. He did however get his goal when he capitalised on some awful man-marking to convert a very good cross from right-back Janmaat. The right-back had also previously provided an assist for Van der Vaart and was impressive. The rout against Estonia was completed by Ruben Schaken, who came on in favour of Jeremain Lens .The 3-0 scored by Schaken was the 1500th Oranje goal in the history.
Against Romania, Van Persie scored two, assisted the first and looked a bit better than he has done lately. One wonder header after a chip from the backline by Robben and a penalty after a foul on Lens saw him make it 3-0. The latter scored the 4-0 from a rebound after a fine shot by Adam Maher. The game ended with 10 Eredivisie-players and only Vermeer and Robben over 25 , with Jordy Clasie replacing Van der Vaart, Siem De Jong replacing Van Persie and the aforementioned Maher replacing De Guzman.
The score after the two games is Netherlands, 7, opponents 0. A fine display by the young backline, a midfield with the quality to dominate and an attack both versatile and dangerous. There is still some building to do for the Netherlands, but barring a miracle, they will be in Brazil. And with the young squad and amount of talent Van Gaal has at his disposal, he’ll be trying to mould the team in such a way they can be expected to make an impact and meet the KNVB’s goal of the last four.