Netherlands World Cup squad: Attackers
With a very young defence and an unsettled midfield, up front is where the real power and threat of this Netherlands team lies.
Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben will combine as the front two in this 5-3-2 system and make up the focal point of the attack. These two world class attackers will team up with Wesley Sneijder to make the perfect trident with great speed, creativity and goalscoring ability and will threaten any team they meet.
Here, we take a look at the attackers Louis van Gaal has at his disposal.
Robin van Persie
In 2006, he was one of the pleasant surprises for the Dutch, playing as an inverted winger on the right and scoring a formidable free kick against Ivory Coast. In 2010, he was one of the unwanted surprises, underperforming in a Netherlands side that reached the final. This time around, everything has got to be perfect for Robin van Persie.
Turning 31 later this year, it could well be the last World Cup for ‘Captain Fantastic’. And under his current Dutch national manager and his future Manchester United boss, Louis van Gaal, he has been made more important than ever. The left-footed striker has racked up 14 goals and 3 assists in 17 appearances in the two years under Van Gaal, an unrivalled return in international football.
With a disappointing season at club level behind him, the man from Charlois will be adamant to show that he is still one of the top strikers in the world. And with Van Gaal looking to accommodate his star man in every single way – including telling Sneijder to give Van Persie more space to roam – the stars have aligned for the veteran to shine.
Robben will rival a record for Dutch players by going to his sixth finals tournament and given his age (30) and form, there might well follow a seventh.
With the injury record that Robben has, this will be more than most people expected, but as with wine and whisky, the aging has only improved the product. Four years ago, he lost both the World Cup final and the Champions League final.
After settling the score on the latter, scoring the winning goal in the 2013 Champions League final, he’s now looking to win that other trophy that he has been after for quite a while. And if there is one player instrumental to the possibility of such a success, it is the man from Bedum himself.
From his debut for FC Groningen when he was 16 until now, he has always been a game-changer. Only a handful of players possess the same combination of devastating pace and dribbling ability as the left-footed Robben.
One criticism regarding Robben is his predictability, as he favours to cut in from the right and fire a shot with his left. But it seems to serve him well and studies have shown that the movement of the ‘man of glass’ is too fast for a defender to cope with, so why change a winning formula?
Jeremain Lens is the most frequently used player in the Van Gaal era (18 games), but with the switch to a system with two attackers rather than three, it is Lens who misses out on a starting berth for the Dutch. In that sense, the Dinamo Kyiv might be the unluckiest of all current squad players.
The versatile striker, who is often used out on the wing, has however come a long way to even make it to Brazil. After leaving Ajax as a youth player due to a row with a coach, Lens made his way through AZ, N.E.C. and PSV before popping up in the Dutch national squad.
At PSV, he struggled to find his natural spot as he lacked the height to be the sole striker, but had the directness of a goalscorer. But as he did earlier on, he once again made his way through, becoming a mainstay in the PSV team, creating danger and scoring goals as an inside forward at the Eindhoven club.
Van Gaal seems to be fond of the striker and it is easy to see why. His pace, strength and eye for the goal offers a directness that is very welcome when a team is looking for a goal. Unfortunately, Lens has shown himself a little too eager from time to time, straying in offside positions a bit too often. But when Lens is through on goal, you can count on him to give the keeper a hard run for his money.
On the ball, few attackers are harder to stop than Lens and Van Gaal will be hoping that Lens can deliver exactly that when he brings the Dynamo Kiev striker onto the pitch.
‘The successor of Jeremain Lens at PSV’ might not be the most frightening thing to put on a footballer’s CV when you enter a World Cup. Being nicknamed ‘The Dutch Cristiano Ronaldo’ turns it into a whole different story.
Still only 20, Memphis Depay has been one of the revelations of this Eredivisie season. At BeNefoot, we’ve been so impressed with him that he has been given the label of #1 Eredivisie revelation of the season.
The young Dutchman might not have the looks of a Cristiano Ronaldo, but the muscly man from Rotterdam is as well put together in terms of power, pace and dribble and carries a devastating right foot with him.
In a disappointing season for PSV, Depay has been one of the highlights, providing a constant threat from the left and while his lack of international experience might be seen as a point of concern, it can also mean that when called upon, the PSV winger can provide something different.
In the youngster, Van Gaal has a rough diamond at his disposal, with more of the emphasis on diamond rather than rough. It remains to be seen if the winger will step up as a world class player this tournament, but it is clear that there’s world class potential hidden in the Sparta academy youth product.
With 60 caps and 34 goals, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar can boast a superb record for his country. And his list of clubs, including Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan isn’t too shabby either.
Unfortunately for the Schalke-man, he has Robin van Persie in front of him. Over the last ten years, there has hardly been a poacher of the same level as ‘The Hunter’, but the lack of footballing skills in comparison to Robin van Persie has been a burden throughout his career. And there is a case to be made that Huntelaar might not have the pace and dribble of a Robben, or the technique and finesse of someone like Van Persie.
However, if there is one thing that Huntelaar can do, it is scoring goals. In the current set-up, the options are limited for the former Eredivisie and Bundesliga topscorer, but Van Gaal won’t be afraid to throw in the former Ajax star when there’s the need for a goal.
In the first 17 years of his life, Dirk Kuyt never played a game for a professional club, not even at youth level. Seventeen years on, Kuyt has not only played professional football, but has played in several cup finals, in a Champions League final, and this season, he has finally picked up a league title with Turkish side Fenerbahce.
Born in Katwijk, Kuyt has never been a natural talent, but with unrivalled work ethics and intelligent movement he has made his way across clubs like Feyenoord and Liverpool.
His role as a player is likely to be limited this tournament, but the professionalism Kuyt has shown throughout his career is one of the reasons for Van Gaal to keep the Dutchman aboard. If there is one man always ready to help out, always ready to jump in when there are troubles, it is the 34-year-old Dirk Kuyt.