A regular series as part of our World Cup coverage under the Talent Radar banner is aimed at the tons of aspiring football hipsters out there. We will track the progress of all young players at the World Cup, focusing on each and every game and compiling a detailed analysis. The eligibility criteria for this is simple, the player must have been 21 or below at the start of the season (2013-14).
Back in 2010, when Spain & Netherlands met at Soccer City, it was a close fought affair with two of the biggest teams at the time going head to head. It was a whole lot different this time round as the two met four years later. Spain were unprecedented favourites for the clase against the Dutch side, though experience, backed with a lot of youth. Many familiar faces remained in both sides from the game in South Africa, but a few new ones did come in, such as the Feyernoord centre backs, Bruno Martins Indi & Stefan De Vrij (the latter is even the captain at club level).
Van Gaal plays a three-man defence, as we’ve detailed in this analysis here. Ron Vlaar is the other man in the back three along with the youngsters, and this system had it’s biggest test yet with defending champions Spain, the opponents.
BRUNO MARTINS INDI
Netherlands | Centre-back | 22
The player who first caught our eye at the 2013 U-21 European Championship, had a difficult task at hand. The world champions have a very potent attack, with players like Iniesta, Diego Costa, and many more among their ranks. The young Feyenoord man responded to the challenge well, and seemed very motivated to perform on the big stage.
Bruno Martins Indi was at #10 in our list of 25 Young Players to Watch in Brazil
What Holland did very well throughout the game was reduce the space between their lines and keep to a minimum really. With the midfield tending to press on a bit, the responsibility was on the 3 defenders to ensure their positioning was perfect, or they would get caught out by Spain. Important to this process was communication, and Martins Indi did a swell job on this front. Spain had trouble creating clear cut chances, due in no small part to the effective team performance the Dutch put out. Individually too, Martins Indi put on a fine show, with 3 tackles and 2 interceptions to boot. Another noticeable aspect to his performance was his marking. Martins Indi has attracted praise from us for this before, and it was on show again, as the defender stuck to his man, Costa, like a magnet on all set pieces. However, if we are to pick out a flaw in his performance, it might be his temperament. A shameful reaction saw an altercation with Diego Costa, and further belligerent behaviour with Pedro doesn’t really reflect well. His passing too, could use a little improvement. While 92% looks excellent on the surface, the passes that he missed were all forward passes, and most of those completed were sideways or backwards. This could impair their attack and build up just a little, though that didn’t seem like the case at all against Spain.
While this wasn’t the most mature performance that he’ll ever give, Martins Indi has shown that he has the potential to compete with the very best, and van Gaal will do well to keep this player on his toes and firing, so as to get the best out of him in the other games.
STEFAN DE VRIJ
Netherlands | Centre-back | 22
Partnering Martins Indi during those 2013 U-21 European Championship matches was Stefan De Vrij. The defender, quite unlike his partner, is a very unassuming sort of character on the pitch, and goes about his business without too much of a fuss.
Just like his centre back partner, De Vrij too, put in a very assured performance on the day. While he was quite busy with dealing with the Spanish attackers, who he got the better of, De Vrij added a little sheen to his performance by scoring a goal as well. However, in an ironic twist, one feels that the goal might just take some of the shine off the terrific defensive performance he put in. 8 tackles and 4 interceptions mean that the Feyenoord had the most of both those measures of everyone on the pitch. He was certainly the man that was aggressively putting out any flicker of hope that the Spaniards had while going forward. The likes of Diego Costa really struggled to make any impression. The mistake, if it can be called that, came with his tackle on Diego Costa. One might say it was a harsh penalty, but it marked one of the few occasions on which Spain and Costa managed to catch the young defender out of position.
De Vrij put in a superlative performance against Spain, and while the 2 centre backs may not win too many of the plaudits in light of the efforts of the likes of Robben, opposition coaches will take note of the coordination and effectiveness that the Dutch back four displayed.