Can Netherlands exceed restrained expectations at World Cup 2022?

There is cautious optimism around this Dutch team after a string of impressive performances in the Nations League.

Netherlands World Cup
The Netherlands has produced many great teams in its history but ultimately underachieved on the international stage [Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters]

Previous World Cup appearances: 10
Titles: 0
Best finish: Runners-up (1974, 1978, 2010)
World Cup record: W27 D12 L11
Goals: 86
Biggest win: 5-0 vs South Korea (1988)
Player to watch: Virgil van Dijk
Ranking: 8
Fixtures: Senegal (November 21), Ecuador (November 25), Qatar (November 29)

As the Netherlands head to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, expectations amongst fans are more restrained than in previous tournaments.

The current Oranje squad is not as star-studded as previous generations and exited the European Championships last year with a 2-0 loss to the Czech Republic in the round of 16.

Since then, the Netherlands have notched up a string of impressive results against formidable opposition, including two wins over neighbours Belgium in the Nations League to top their group.

A favourable draw with Qatar, Senegal and Ecuador in the World Cup group stages has further buoyed spirits.

The nation also appears behind manager Louis Van Gaal who led them to the World Cup 2014 final after it was revealed he was receiving treatment for prostate cancer.

Louis Van Gaal
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal ahead of a Nations League match against Wales in the UEFA Nations League, June 8th 2022, Cardiff, Wales [Peter Cziborra/Reuters]

Close but no cigar

The Netherlands has produced many great teams in its history but ultimately underachieved on the international stage, failing to win the World Cup despite reaching three finals.

It was in 1974 that the Netherlands, captained by Johan Cruyff, reached their first final utilising their style of “Total Football” – where outfield players can change position while retaining organisational structure. The team stormed the knockout phases, swatting aside Argentina, East Germany and Brazil, but eventually lost the final to West Germany.

Four years later, they would fall short in the final once again as Argentina scored two goals in extra time to win.

The 1980s would see a decline in Dutch football at both club and international levels, with the national side failing to qualify for a World Cup. However, the team, inspired by Marco Van Basten, would win the 1988 European Championships.

In the 1990s, a new generation of Dutch stars that included Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf and Dennis Bergkamp jettisoned the Netherlands to a series of impressive but ultimately disappointing World Cup campaigns.

In 2010, the Netherlands would take Spain to extra time in a feisty final but an extra-time winner from Andres Iniesta sealed the win for the Spaniards.

Four years later, a tactically astute Dutch team oscillated between free-scoring attacking tactics that resulted in Robin Van Persie’s famous lobbed header in a 5-1 rout of Spain and careful defensive displays that saw them eke out two goalless draws resulted in a third-place finish.

The Netherlands would fail to qualify in 2018 after finishing third in their qualifying group to France and Sweden.

Van Gaal’s goalkeeping headache

The most heated discussions around team selection have focused on who should start in goal.

Manager Van Gaal dropped regular keeper Jasper Cillessen who moved to Dutch club NEC from Valencia, for two Nations League fixtures.

Cillessen’s attitude has also been called into question by former teammate Rafael van der Vaart who described him as a “nasty man”.

Virgil van Dijk Netherlands
Netherlands’ Virgil van Dijk celebrates scoring against Belgium in the Nations League UEFA Nations League. Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands – September 25, 2022 [Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters]

In a surprise move, van Gaal handed veteran keeper Remko Pasveer his first senior cap at the age of 38 in September. However, the Ajax shot-stopper has seen a drop in form at the club level in recent weeks.

Feyenoord’s goalkeeper, Justin Bijlow, is also in contention, but the 24-year-old has also suffered a drop in form.

The Oranje boast a robust, star-studded defensive line with the likes of Liverpool FC’s Virgil van Dijk and Manchester City’s Nathan Aké. Van Gaal has dropped Bayern Munich’s Matthijs de Ligt in favour of the more agile Jurriën Timber.

Van Gaal has experimented with his midfield in recent matches, but several players are guaranteed to start, including the versatile Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong and former Manchester United defensive midfielder Daley Blind.

Up front, Ajax’s Steven Bergjwin and FC Barcelona’s Memphis Depay will likely start if fit.

Source: Al Jazeera