Netherlands World Cup squad: Defenders
The Netherlands are not known for producing excellent defenders, however, Louis van Gaal has picked some talented, capable players to include in his final World Cup squad.
As he employs a new, untested formation in Brazil, defensive stability is crucial in the squad as they come up against potent and strong teams like Chile and Spain who can hit them with speed and really test the Oranje backline. Meanwhile, the more physical and aerial Australia offer a very different but equally severe threat.
Here, we take a look at each of the defenders Van Gaal has taken to Brazil.
- See also: The lowdown on the goalkeepers
The Ajax player has come a long way in recent years, having gone from a left-back who was absolutely despised at his own club to the star of the team. With the Eredivisie champions, the 24-year-old has been moved into the central midfield position where has has thrived and developed into a better player and helped guide them to a fourth consecutive title. However, Louis van Gaal still prefers to utilise him as a left-back at the national team.
Having changed his formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3/5-3-2, it means the Oranje will play with attacking fullbacks as opposed to more solid defensive players (although they don’t have any in those positions anyway). Many expected Vitesse’s Patrick van Aanholt to take up the left-back position after an excellent season with Vitesse.
However, Van Gaal opted to leave the Chelsea player out, meaning he has three players who can play at left-back. In the recent game against Ghana, Van Gaal fielded the starting XI for the World Cup, playing Blind at left-back. The formation suits him because it allows him to focus on attack and means he has much fewer defensive responsibilities and means they aren’t left vulnerable by his lack of pace.
The son of Ajax and Netherlands legend Danny Blind has been in excellent form all season and was voted the best player in the Eredivisie at the end of the season. Now it’s his chance to show is talent at the highest level.
A competent, quick and intelligent right-back, Daryl Janmaat has been in excellent form for Feyenoord this season and has proved to be a great choice for the right-back spot in the national team too.
Very good at going forward and capable defensively, he is the alternative to the injured Paris Saint-Germain defender Gregory van der Wiel.
Unusually for a right-back, he has been given the No.7 jersey for the tournament in Brazil, which is perhaps a signal of the role he will play this summer. The focus will be very much on going forward and supporting the narrow front three of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder to create some width in attacking areas.
The former Heerenveen player only made his national team debut in September 2012 but has gone on to receive 16 caps for Louis van Gaal’s side and his consistency and skill have made him a favourite under the coach.
The 24-year-old is more than likely to leave De Kuip this summer and this tournament will give him a great chance to attract a new club with Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United and Napoli rumoured to be interested.
Bruno Martins Indi
A tall defender with great power and strength, Bruno Martins Indi is an absolute machine. The defender is only 22-years-old (although he doesn’t look it) and is still developing, but he has been a key player for an excellent Feyenoord team for the last three years.
A strong, solid tackler with good ability on the ball too, he is a complete defender and it is no surprise that he is guaranteed a starting spot in the first-team for the World Cup.
A centre-back who can also be used at left-back, if Van Gaal would rather opt for a flat back four instead of five, he is most likely to rely on BMI to slot in at left-back because of his defensive stability and strength. Otherwise, he will remain in the heart of the defence.
Aston Villa’s Ron Vlaar is the most experienced defender in the team having made 24 appearances for the Oranje.
The 29-year-old will play in the centre of defence alongside former Feyenoord team-mates Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij and as he is seven years older than both and five older than the wing-backs Blind and Janmaat, his experience and leadership qualities will be crucial when they line up against their group stage opponents.
Despite his age and impressive number of caps, Vlaar is making his first appearance at a finals as he nears his physical peak, having been excluded from the final squads for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Good in the air and a very good tackler, Vlaar is going to be a critical member of the Dutch team in Brazil and may have to keep an eye on the younger players who surround him.
Stefan de Vrij
Stefan de Vrij is another Feyenoord player Van Gaal has included in his 23-man squad. At 22-years-old, you would think he was lacking some experience heading into this World Cup, however, the defender has just completed his fifth season in the first-team of the Rotterdam giants.
The 6’3″ youngster is a very bright and talented player with good tackling ability as well as good technique and intelligence too. Coach Ronald Koeman made him Feyenoord captain last season but the armband was passed onto star striker Graziano Pelle this year, however he remains a strong leader within the Netherlands backline.
Van Gaal has great belief in De Vrij, having handed him his debut against Belgium in the coach’s first game in charge. Since then, he has been a regular in the heart of the defence, playing with the likes of former team-mate Ron Vlaar and current co-Feyenoord star Bruno Martins Indi.
Just like his fellow Rotterdammers Janmaat and Martins Indi, De Vrij is almost a certain to be playing at a new club come the beginning of next season and this summer some strong performances could see him attract interest from a few big teams in Europe.
A 20-year-old defender who started this season playing in Feyenoord’s reserve team and only played 17 league matches in the Eredivisie by the end of the campaign, the inclusion of Terence Kongolo in Louis van Gaal’s 23-man squad for the World Cup is a bit of a surprise.
The change in system calls for a more versatile type of defender and that Kongolo has played in a similar formation at both left-back and centre-back with Feyenoord which means he is excellent backup to have in the team.
Kongolo is a defender with great potential. He has excellent reactions and fights for every ball. Quick into tackles but not reckless and calm and composed on the ball, he is developing remarkably well in the Eredivisie with the Rotterdam giants and spending the summer learning alongside his Feyenoord team-mates and Louis van Gaal will be an incredible experience for the youngster.
After only a few appearances in the Ajax first-team, Louis van Gaal handed Joel Veltman his national team debut. The centre-back put in a very strong and convincing performance against Colombia in November as he wore the Oranje jersey for the first time.
Throughout the season, the defender showed great intelligence and leadership skills in Frank de Boer’s team as well as excellent technique and passing ability as he helped Ajax claim another Eredivisie title.
With just two caps to his name, there are more experienced defenders ahead of him in the team, so the 22-year-old will be used as backup throughout the tournament but will slot in comfortably if called upon.
Veltman’s tackling ability needs some work, but his true strengths lie in his ability to bring the ball out from the back and circulate possession, which is one thing Van Gaal admires most about him.
Despite having made only two appearances for the Oranje, with his debut coming against Portugal in 2013, Paul Verhaegh is clearly a right-back that Louis van Gaal admires. While he has only taken to the field twice, he has been included in several national team squads under Van Gaal.
The Augsburg right-back has enjoyed a fine season in the Bundesliga with the Bavarian side finishing in eighth place, narrowly missing out on a European spot. The 30-year-old was a critical part of Markus Weinzierl’s team who were defensively sound throughout the campaign.
In the absence of Gregory van der Wiel, Verhaegh has been named as backup to Janmaat and Van Gaal can have confidence in his defensive ability but the attacking side of his game will be the main concern if he is called upon to fill in the wing-back role.