Anti-football to brilliant Oranje: Van Gaal works his magic

Not many in the Netherlands liked what they saw in final of the 2010 World Cup. The Dutch were aggressive and in the eyes of Johan Cruyff and 'Total football' fans they were “anti-football.”

Bert Van Marwijk survived the loss and the criticism but he couldn't survive the disappointing 2012 European Cup campaign which saw the Netherlands crash out without winning a single game. The loss called for a change and that change was a man named Louis Van Gaal.

In his last stint as Netherlands coach in 2002, van Gaal had failed to help his side qualify for the World Cup. He remained very well respected on the club circuit but success as a national coach had eluded him. So when the job was offered to him, he said, it was “the challenge I have been waiting for.”

He set about rebuilding the team -- making changes galore as he tried to find a style that suited the new Netherlands that he was trying to build. Van Gaal capped 25 new players since taking charge in August 2012 and even among the experienced players, only Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Nigel de Jong survived the round of renovation.

Netherlands' Robin van Persie celebrates with Netherlands' head coach Louis van Gaal after scoring the first goal. AP

Netherlands' Robin van Persie celebrates with Netherlands' head coach Louis van Gaal after scoring the first goal. AP

He experimented with formations from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 and eventually settled on a 5-3-2. It wasn't as if the changes weren't working -- they scored 34 goals in World Cup qualification. Of the European teams only Germany (36) scored more.

They were also the first European side to qualify for the finals in Brazil, after winning nine of their qualifying games and drawing the other.

But still coming into the World Cup, the Dutch weren't one of the favourites. The injuries to Kevin Strootman and Rafael van der Vaart hit the young squad hard. The average age of the Dutch squad is just 26.5 years. And with Van Gaal retaining just 6 players from the team that played in the 2010 World Cup -- experience was expected to be a factor especially against teams like Spain.

The defence was in an especially tricky place. Ron Vlaar was the veteran and he wasn't exactly stellar for Aston Villa. The rest of them -- though talented -- still play for Dutch clubs and are untested at the highest level.

“There are eight to 10 teams better than we are, so I would say our chances of reaching the quarter-finals are only around 20%,” Van Gaal said. “I also think we are in the worst of the groups.”

However, none of that seemed to matter when the Dutch took on Spain in their first match of the 2014 World Cup. The Spaniards had more possession, they stitched together more passes but the Dutch kept their shape and their hopes alive.

A brilliant header by Van Persie off a superb long ball from Daley Blind just before half-time gave them a big push but it was in the second half that they showed glimpses of the good old brilliant Oranje again.

Robben started things off in the 53rd minute by superbly controlling another long ball from Blind. He controlled it with his left, dummied with his right, then found some space with his left and slammed it in.

Stefan de Vrij nodded in the third goal from the far post in the 65th minute before Van Persie caught Iker Casillas napping and got his second goal of the evening in the 72nd minute.

The Pièce de résistance of the evening though was Robben's second goal, which came in the 80th minute. Wesley Sneijder came up with a brilliant through ball from defence and Robben outpaced Sergio Ramos, who is no slouch himself, to then stymie his way to his second goal of the game.

Now, this wasn't Total Football -- it certainly wasn't everyone doing everything instead it was everyone doing the jobs they were asked to. It was the specialists who won the Dutch glory and an important win over the reigning World and Europena champions. Van Persie finished, Robben showed his trickery, Sneijder his vision and Van Gaal his tactical nous.

Before the game, Sneijder has insisted, “This is a big week but it’s only one game.”

But it's one game that may have changed how the world looks at them. They are brilliant once again; they are contender once again; they are dangerous once again.

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Updated Date: Jun 14, 2014 19:39:43 IST

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