A good start, but Oranje won’t go all the way in the World Cup
The first two games in the 2014 World Cup have seen the Netherlands surpass all expectation. Louis van Gaal’s men built on their remarkable opening day 5-1 trouncing of Spain with a 3-2 victory over Australia on Wednesday.
With six points and eight goals scored in their opening two matches of the tournament, the Dutch have been a huge surprise in the competition as they look destined to finish top of the group, whereas pre-tournament expectations were that they could struggle to get out of the group consisting of Spain, Chile and the Socceroos.
Although their goal tally has been impressive and they boast some remarkable attackers in the shape of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, the only thing that has been made clear in these first two games is that they are not contenders for to win the competition.
So far, some of the favoured teams of the tournament have failed to impress, while the Dutch have gone the opposite way.
Finding the net again against Australia with some excellent goals, Van Persie and Robben have shown that they can threaten any backline in the world. Individually, the duo are world class. As a pairing, they are simply deadly and are arguably the best attacking partnership in Brazil this summer.
That, though, is where the superiority the Netherlands has over the other teams competing this summer ends.
Effective and extremely efficient, the Oranje humiliated the reigning world champions in a manner that shocked the entire world. However, the result was blown out of proportion. Spain were, by Vicente del Bosque’s own words, complacent. They were also incapable of adapting to the Netherlands’ style in the game. Also, in some ways the Dutch, although electrifying, were very lucky. Had David Silva’s one-on-one with Jasper Cillessen in the first half gone in, the game would have been completely different.
Australia showed on Wednesday that the Dutch can struggle when put under pressure. Through their muscle, aggression and power, Ange Postecoglu’s men prevented Van Gaal’s team from being able to build attacks as they became wasteful in possession.
“The first half was definitely not good. It was basically just bad,” Van Persie told NOS after the game. He was right.
The Dutch had just one real opportunity in the first 45 minutes and it was an absolutely incredible moment.
Robben read the flight of Daley Blind’s pass remarkably well and, through the speed at which he changes direction, duped Alex Wilkinson and freed up the space to drive towards goal. As he charged towards Mat Ryan, he had Van Persie to his right, but a perfectly timed and weighted pass was required to get the ball to him. Trailing in at the left, was Daley Blind – a few metres-per-second behind the pace. With the space gaping in front of him, a sweet blast into the bottom corner put Netherlands in the lead.
Just a matter of seconds later, though, Blind charged too heavily into a tackle in the centre, freeing up space on the left where Ryan McGowan was able to ping it into the box for Tim Cahill, who had a criminal amount of space in the box, to volley in off the bar. A magnificent goal.
Throughout the second half, the Oranje were much more productive. Australia continued to battle hard and put them under pressure and, thanks to the referee, took the lead just nine minutes. The ball struck the trailing arm of Daryl Janmaat from close range and after a few seconds contemplation, Djamel Haimoudi pointed to the spot and Mile Jedinak converted with ease.
Bruno Martins Indi’s first half injury forced a change of shape from Van Gaal, which saw him bring on Eredivisie’s young sensation Memphis Depay for the second half. The youngster showed he is a future star through his assist for Van Persie to tie it up, taking advantage of a poorly set offside trap in a move that ended with the Manchester United star turning in plenty of space and firing home. Depay then went on to kill the game off with a blast from the edge of the box.
The 20-year-old is the brightest young player in all of the Eredivisie at the moment. His potential is great, his talent exceptional and his shooting ability suggests the Netherlands have a player who can take over from Arjen Robben when it comes to pure electrifying speed and skill and threats from outside the box. His introduction to the game allowed Van Gaal’s side to threaten Australia further and win the game in the second half.
He allows the Netherlands to alter their style from the 5-3-2 and also adds a different dimension to the attack. Jeremain Lens can also boost the attack further with his pace, dribbling skills and strength. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is also available on the bench, however, his lack of mobility means he isn’t suited to being the focal point of the attack in this system and it seems unlikely neither he nor Dirk Kuyt will be seen much in Brazil.
The Oranje’s attacking players can threaten and upset any defence, but the defending is where the Dutch are decidedly weak.
Van Gaal’s switch to the 5-3-2 allows him to compensate for the loss of Kevin Strootman, however, it hasn’t done just that so far. That the team is still lacking an orthodox central midfielder is hindering them severely. Jonathan de Guzman has slotted in alongside Nigel de Jong and simply spent the first two games sitting deep and so far hasn’t added enough defensively to justify his inclusion.
The three centre-backs in the defence absolve Blind and Janmaat of a lot of defensive responsibilities and have shown to be decent at closing down and blocking shots from the edge of the box, however, Australia and Spain have both shown that Bruno Martins Indi, Ron Vlaar and Stefan de Vrij can be poor at tracking runs, while their distribution of the ball could be better.
The injury to Martins Indi, who suffered a concussion after Cahill’s challenge saw him smack his head off the ground, could be detrimental to the Dutch. His only replacements are Terence Kongolo and Joel Veltman. Both are young but neither are as secure nor as commanding as the Feyenoord defender. While Kongolo has more pace, he isn’t as strong and Veltman may have decent technique, his tackling isn’t great and he can be quite sloppy.
The team’s sub standard off the ball work is something which can see them through against an out of sorts Spain and an Australia team which has good fight but not the quality to overcome them, however, as they make it into the deep stages of the tournament, the big teams will be able to over power them quite easily.
Robben and Van Persie can’t be stopped altogether, but they can be restricted. The huge hole left in between Sneijder and the deep duo of De Jong and De Guzman can become an area for other teams to build their attacks and really threaten them. Meanwhile, better, more mobile, intelligent and stronger attackers will be able to get weave in behind the defence and really threaten the Oranje.
Before the tournament started, simply getting out of the group was enough for the Oranje’s World Cup to be declared a success. They have achieved that already. Finishing top of the group gives them a real opportunity of avoiding Brazil, meaning the quarter-finals is more of a possibility.
To get beyond the last eight, though, is a real struggle. Unless the likes of De Vrij, Vlaar and Martins Indi stop giving away so much space in the box and De Guzman begins to move forward and there is more and better pressure in the middle of the park behind the front three, it will be a miracle to go any further.
Robben and Van Persie are carrying the team. Unless the remainder start to pull their own weight, the Netherlands will eventually crumble.