Five things we learned from Netherlands 2-2 Japan

Plenty of things to discuss, plenty of lessons learned after the  Netherlands’ 2-2 draw with Japan. Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben got the Dutch 0-2 up in Genk (Belgium), but just before half-time, Osako halved Japan’s deficit. In the second half, the Japanese went on to rescue a draw through Keisuke Honda. The former VVV-player rounded off a beautiful attack, but couldn’t inspire his side to go on and win the match. The Netherlands are now 16 games unbeaten and have scored in all of their games in 2013. Peter McVitie and Michiel Jongsma discuss the things that the Dutch can take from this performance.


The left side is a liability – Peter McVitie

Overall, Louis van Gaal has put together a very strong and balanced side with a great blend of youth and experience. However, there is one area in which the Oranje are worryingly tame.

The entire left side of the team is a cause for concern for Van Gaal. Daley Blind is a left back who very much suits the Ajax system and the style of play under Frank de Boer. As an attack-minded full back, the other defenders allow him to burst forward while they cover for his defensive negligence. The national team, though, doesn’t set up in the same way. Blind’s disregard for tracking back and covering the opponents’ wingers leaves massive gaps on the flank and creates an opening for teams to get in behind the back line.

At the moment the only other option at left-back is Jetro Willems, who can also be suspect when opponents drive down that side, but the central defenders must cover for the space left by the left-back, which Ron Vlaar neglected to do against Japan.

Ahead of Blind sat Jeremain Lens in attack on the left side for Holland against Japan. But even the Dynamo Kyiv attacker is out of his depth in the Netherlands team. Luciano Narsingh and Memphis Depay are both much better options in the long term, but the former is not quite fully match fit following his injury and the latter is still developing.

While Blind’s deficiency can be covered by using a centre-back (like Bruno Martins Indi) who will move over to cover for the space the left-back leaves in that area, Oranje need a winger who gives more width and speed. Lens is not that player.

While the Netherlands are strong as a team, the left side is where they are weakest, a simple change in personnel or a tactical rejigging to plug holes will go a long way to fix these issues.

2010 Nigel de Jong doesn’t have a future in Oranje, but 2013 Nigel de Jong does Michiel Jongsma

In 2010, Nigel de Jong became the epitome of the Dutch side that got to the World Cup final and his ‘tackle’ (karate kick) on Xabi Alonso became the lasting image of how Oranje performed that tournament. ‘The terrier’ was, together with Mark van Bommel, the spine of a side grinding out results, carrying the winning mentality throughout the team no matter what. At Manchester City too, Nigel de Jong was mainly lauded for being a tough man. One that is willing to do the dirty work for others, a Luca Brasi to the Mancini/ Corleone family.

But now, three years on, Nigel de Jong is more of a controlling midfielder and although he’s still sitting deep in midfield, he has his head up and looks to give a more positive distribution. His positioning and awareness have always been class, but he uses these forces now more for the sake of good rather than evil. People tend to forget Nigel de Jong started his career as a versatile midfielder/ right back with a lot of attacking intent and in his three and a bit years at Ajax he scored more goals than in the almost eight years that followed. It seems De Jong has allowed himself to show that part of his game a bit more often.

If he can combine the experience and discipline that have marked his game throughout the years with the energy and footballing intent he displayed earlier, he could well be the man sitting next to Kevin Strootman to form a wonderfully complete midfield duo.

Jasper Cillesen shouldn’t be the first choice goalkeeper – Peter McVitie

He may have displaced Kenneth Vermeer as the number one choice goalkeeper for Ajax, but Jasper Cillessen is not yet ready to take over as the undisputed shot-stopper for the Netherlands national team.

The 24-year-old, though, is still relatively inexperienced and, with Tim Krul and Michel Vorm available and in such fine form at club level, he shouldn’t be the starting goalkeeper for a nation looking to challenge at the World Cup next summer.

His inexperience was on show as Japan netted their first goal. As Makoto Hasebe charged forward, Cillessen moved too far to the left and as the ball was played to Yuya Osako, it took him too long to come back into the centre of his goal and the 23-year-old was able to slot it in comfortably.

Cillessen has only been the first choice goalkeeper at club level since the end of September, whereas Krul has been outstanding for Newcastle United since 2010 and Vorm for Swansea since 2011.

Krul, in particular, seems to be getting better and better in the Premier League and, with Maarten Stekelenburg and Vermeer nowhere near claiming the undisputed goalkeeper spot for Oranje, the 25-year-old deserves the chance in the national team under Van Gaal.

An attack with Arjen Robben can score against any side – Michiel Jongsma

With Robin van Persie out (replaced by Siem de Jong, we’ll get to that later) and an out-of-form Jeremain Lens in the side, it is safe to say that the Dutch team against Japan was hardly at their attacking best. But fear not, lovers of Dutch football, because an attack containing Arjen Robben is still able to score against any opponent. And so it showed. The 0-2 was a beautiful curler in the top corner and the Bedum-born showed his dribbling skills throughout the game.

It’s both those elements that make Robben such a class player. While some good finishers struggle to create or are heavily reliant on their team-mates supplying them with and others are able to dribble and create for themselves but lack an end product, Robben has both. Before his Champions League-winning goal against Dortmund this year, he was named as ‘one of those guys that choke in finals’, a harsh reputation. You can only get such a reputation if you get in good positions and his overall scoring record shows he in general is quite an accomplished finisher.

Robben has a rare set of qualities and he displays them with a consistency that can only be rivaled by players like Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Ribery and a nation with a player like him in the side can score against anyone. It’s a luxury that could prove crucial in Brazil.

Siem de Jong has no future in the national team – Peter McVitie

The Ajax captain is a very talented and versatile player. His influence and importance to his club cannot be overstated as he can play either as the main striker or in behind one and he does remarkably well to link everything together with the Amsterdam side. However, he simply doesn’t fit the current style of the national team.

With strikers like Robin van Persie, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ricky van Wolfswinkel at Van Gaals disposal, there is no way he’ll be used often as a central striker. However, when it comes to his natural position in midfield, there are far too many better options ahead of him in the shape of Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder, with the likes of Adam Maher coming through too.

While one cannot imagine an Ajax team without his engine, intelligence and ability to tie everything together, one also cannot imagine him ever having any such influence with the Oranje.

It is a shame for De Jong, really. He is a very hard working and intelligent player. He will be selected for squads more often than not and has a good chance of traveling to Brazil in the summer for the World Cup, however, it is unlikely that he will blossom into an integral part of the team.

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