The World Cup is days away. Fantom Sports presents a new series where we will look into some of the contenders for the World Cup title, continuing with the Netherlands. It feels like a decade since the last time we saw the Netherlands playing in the World Cup. Well, this year marks the comeback of a once-feared nation after failing to qualify in 2018. What does the future hold for Louis van Gaal and the Oranje this World Cup?
A roster of balance
On Friday, Louis van Gaal announced the 26 players to join him in Qatar. A hard-nosed coach like he is, he willingly left some phenomenal players like Ryan Gravenberch out due to lack of form. Still, in the hand of the former Bayern Munich coach are quality players all around. They have a center-back rotation other teams can dream of: Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt, Nathan Ake, Stefan de Vrij, not to mention young Jurrien Timber. Newcastle’s Sven Botman didn’t receive the call-up due to surplus talent in this position. The midfield led by Frenkie de Jong is a formidable one. Xavi Simons and Cody Gakpo, possibly two of the most high-flying players this season, are ready to make a name for themselves. And we cannot talk about the Netherlands without Memphis Depay. Although he didn’t get much playing time at the beginning of the season, he is still a deadly weapon on the international stage. His 42 goals for Oranje are just eight short of tying Robin van Persie for the most goals for the national team.
Trust in the Iron Tulip
Eight years ago in Brazil, Louis van Gaal led a prominent Dutch team to a third-place finish. Eight years later, the Iron Tulip is back from his coaching hiatus. This time the position of the squad has changed. They are no longer the reigning runner-up with legendary attackers but a highly underrated team with a much better defense than attack. But looking at the way the players respect Louis van Gaal and his tactics, the fans can hope for another great run in the tournament. At the end of the day, mentality is worth more than talent on the biggest stage. And best believe LVG is one of the mentality monsters of the beautiful game.
After Edwin van der Sar’s retirement, the Dutch haven’t found a way to produce quality goalkeepers. Their goalkeeper rotation since 2010 has been aging and little-known players. 24-year-old Justin Bijlow is probably the best goalkeeper prospect for Louis van Gaal this campaign, or else he would have to trust 39-year-old Remko Pasveer or 28-year-old Andries Noppert. The selections have been better than in past years, but it still raises concerns.
Another concern lies in the attack. Although Depay is irreplaceable at the front, he is not, by any means, in form. The same goes for the other number 9s. Yes, Xavi Simons and Cody Gakpo are in the best shapes of their lives, but they lack the experience and are still way too young to be the leaders up front.
Here are some of the players with determining factors of the results of The Flying Dutchmen campaign in Qatar.
- Virgil van Dijk: the captain. Many regard him as one of the best defenders in the world. He will have to step up and lead this defense.
- Matthijs de Ligt: the young leader: He is having a great time at Bayern. The question is can he translate that form into the World Cup?
- Denzel Dumfries: the wing threat. He was out of this world a year ago in the Euro 2020. Louis van Gaal and the fans hope he can keep that same energy.
- Frenkie de Jong: the midfield maestro. The playmaking duties lie all on him. He is the heart and soul of this team.
- Memphis Depay: the scoring hopes. Like de Jong’s job in the midfield, the scoring duties are all put on Depay’s shoulder.
It will take quite a miracle for the Netherlands to win the World Cup, but that miracle could lie in some of its players.
- Xavi Simons: the best young player candidate. PSV’s teenager will make his national team debut in the brightest lights and immediately be the attacking threat.
- Steven Berghuis: the well-balanced midfielder. Excellent at attacking and controlling the game, the Ajax player will be crucial to control the middle of the park.
- Nathan Ake: the defensive boom or bust. He was a bit inconsistent when playing in an Oranje jersey. But his versatility could be something van Gaal can use.
Realistic Prediction for the Netherlands
They have a great pool of players, which allows them to hope for the best. But the offense has to be more than the best form of their lives to keep the Dutch advancing further. If not, they are bound to exit at the QUARTER-FINAL at best.
The Netherlands’ Group Stage fixtures:
Mon, Nov. 21: Senegal vs. Netherlands. Al Thumama Stadium
Fri, Nov. 25: Netherlands vs. Ecuador. Khalifa Int’l Stadium
Tues, Nov. 29: Netherlands vs. Qatar. Al Bayt Stadium
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