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As part of our World Cup coverage, we have interviewed journalists, correspondents, experts & writers representing each of the 32 countries to give you, the readers, a better understanding of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Here are the list of interviewees.
For this interview, focusing on the Netherlands, we spoke to Peter McVitie, Sub-editor for Goal International. He’s also been published in The Sun, The Herald, Daily Mail, London Evening Standard, STV, BeNeFoot.net & more. Follow him on Twitter @PeterMcVitie
The opener is the big game. Spain and their passing brigade have arguably improved upon a product that was made in Holland. But with some of the players at their disposal, Holland can match Spain’s game. Will we witness a tiki vs taka battle?
We will not. The style that the Netherlands play under Van Gaal is quite different to that of Spain. Although passing-based and attacking, the Dutch squad is more youthful but not as fluent or dangerous at the moment. These teams are really quite different just now. Importantly, because of the injury to Kevin Strootman, the Dutch are moving away from the 4-3-3 system Van Gaal adores and usually swears by and will instead play with a 5-3-2 system which means they have to use the wings a lot more.
Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, and Georginio Wijnaldum are all probable candidates to take the so called ‘No. 10’ role. With that role being an important part of Van Gaal’s system, who wins for you?
It has to be Sneijder, I think. Van der Vaart has been quite disappointing lately at HSV and, although a brilliant young player, Wijnaldum will be second in line for the position. The 5-3-2 system will accommodate Sneijder very well as it takes the defensive responsibilities away from him and ensures there is more support behind him. This will benefit him and the team immensely as it is exactly what was missing in the midfield in Euro 2012 as there was a huge gap behind him with Van Bommel and De Jong sitting back all the time.
(Note that at the time of writing Van der Vaart was available for selection, has been injured since then and is out of the World Cup)
While many say that this is Holland’s weakest squad in many years, Van Gaal certainly has a way with youngsters, helping an entire Ajax generation, the likes of Xavi, and more recently, the likes of Muller and Puyol establish themselves. What makes him so good with young players?
For Van Gaal, age doesn’t matter and experience isn’t a factor. He knows what he wants from every single position in the team and the style he wants to play, so he picks the players according to that. If they are young, so what? As long as they are good enough. Short and physically weak? Doesn’t matter. As long as he has the technique and intelligence to do the job that that position demands then it’s fine. Dutch youngsters tend to train in the 4-3-3 system from a young age and that’s the formation Van Gaal swears by, so they already have the attributes their position requires by the time they reach the senior squads, which makes it easier for him to put so much faith in teenagers.
Van Gaal himself had stated that Robben, Van Persie & Strootman were the main players in his squad. Having lost the Roma midfielder, what effect does this have on the system & the coach’s plans? Who now takes up the void left by Kevin?
No one can take it up, really. There is no Oranje player who can be that effective in the box-to-box role… I still question why Man Utd didn’t buy him last summer.
The injury has completely changed the system Van Gaal is heading into the tournament with. He will change from a 4-3-3 to something more like a 5-3-2 which will form into a 3-4-3 when the Dutch attack. With a diamond in midfield, I think we’ll see Nigel de Jong take up the deeper midfield role, while Sneijder will be the No.10.
Luckily, this means we could still see Memphis Depay – the brightest talent in the Eredivisie. The initial reaction to the 5-3-2 was that there’s no space for him, but Van Gaal could squeeze him in if he wants some extra width on the left side with Robben on the right. If he does, pay attention – the kid’s unique.
The Dutch squad contains a whole host of domestic based Eredivisie players. Is this an indication of an improving league or change in attitudes? Can a squad with lesser experience elsewhere in European football have a detrimental effect?
Because Van Gaal’s belief in youth is so huge, it means he is always willing to give young players a chance. He has handed debuts to 40 players in the Netherlands national team. As the Eredivisie is such a fine league for producing and developing young Dutch players, it’s essentially the perfect combination. Depay, Promes, Martins Indi, De Vrij, Clasie, Vilhena, Kongolo and Veltman are all very bright young players with bright futures, so it’s good experience for them to play in the tournament, while Van Gaal fully believes in them.
We at Outside of the Boot track the progress of youngsters under our Talent Radar feature. The side seems to have a whole host of young talent (U-22); which one of those do you expect to have a significant impact at the tournament?
Memphis Depay has the makings of a star, while Jordy Clasie is a wonderful central midfielder, if both of them get a shot in the team, they’ll impress more than a few.
Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi are both 22 and will play in the centre of defence, possibly alongside Joel Veltman – also 22, so they will get their chance to shine and will be crucial. Feyenoord’s 20-year-old Terence Kongolo is a smashing young player who could line up on the left-back slot but that remains to be seen. It’s a bit of a shame that we won’t see much of Tonny Vilhena, Jean-Paul Boetius and Quincy Promes –thee very talented and exciting young players (all three have been excluded from the World Cup squad since this interview was done).
Group B is arguably the most difficult one on paper and the true ‘Group of Death’. With Spain being the obvious favourites and Chile continuing to impress, is elimination in the first round a possibility? How far can you realistically see them go and what are expectations among supporters?
The general feeling is that getting out of the group stages will be a success. Spain are clear favourites for the group, Chile look very dangerous while Australia’s strengths prey on the Netherlands’ weaknesses. Finishing second in the group would be a good target but is very difficult and furthermore it most likely sets up a meeting with Brazil which will be a miracle to get beyond.
The confidence is low in the Netherlands and despite having Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder, it’s quite a young team. The hopes aren’t high at all.