Runners-up at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the Netherlands stormed through qualifying for Brazil 2014, racking up nine wins and a draw and scoring 34 goals in the process whilst conceding only five. So how come so few experts tipped Louis van Gaal’s side prior to the tournament?
Now that Group B is complete, the question seems more mystifying than ever. But if the Netherlands were previously overlooked, even by those back home, expectations have risen rapidly over the last few days.
Arjen Robben has been wreaking havoc up front, while Robin van Persie has been deadly in front of goal. The squad’s most famous names have made a huge contribution to a perfect World Cup campaign of three wins from three games. But there is much more to the Dutch success than just the team’s experienced stars. A new generation of talented players is emerging, winning one game after another and waiting for the world to sit up and take notice.
“People usually just look at the star players and don’t consider the team as a whole," midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum told FIFA.com. "Plenty of teams have more famous, perhaps even better players than us. But what everybody forgets is that this is a team game. We’re playing well, and we’re playing as a team,” added the 23-year-old, who was given his first start by Van Gaal for the 2-0 win over Chile in Sao Paulo.
The new generation is a long way from becoming as well-known as its predecessors, with ten of the squad still playing their club football in the Netherlands, including Memphis Depay, who scored in his first two games in the tournament.
Defensive midfielder Leroy Fer, 24, is another lesser-known squad player who has left home, performing well for English club Norwich City last season. After coming off the bench to replace Wesley Sneijder this afternoon, he promptly made a name for himself by heading his side into the lead.
We want to win it all.
“It was a great goal, and the cross from [Daryl] Janmaat was terrific. I met it perfectly. I think it shows that I’m dangerous in the air,” he told FIFA. “A point would have been enough for us, so we could have just sat back and defended. But we scored one goal, and then added another. It’s a great feeling.”
Unsurprisingly, confidence is running high in the Dutch camp. “It would be impossible not to feel good about ourselves after these performances. Each win just adds to our confidence,” said Wijnaldum, who also emphasised the importance of the support the more experienced players bring to the squad.
“We are all trying to do our best, but we still need their help. They make us feel more at ease out on the pitch. They’ve already been in this situation, in 2010, and they know what to expect and what you have to do to win. That is what we’re trying to learn, and things are going well.”
For a team that has been criticised over its supposed reluctance to attack, the Netherlands have scored ten goals in three games, resulting in a goal difference of plus seven and a place in the Round of 16. If the team’s enterprising displays so far have raised eyebrows outside the Dutch camp, they have come as no surprise to the players, irrespective of their level of experience.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been a surprise,” said Fer. “We arrived in confident mood. We knew that we could qualify from the group, and now here we are. We’re ready for the knock-out phase. It’s a different type of competition now, but that doesn’t bother us. We want to win it all,” he said. The Netherlands of Robben, Van Persie and the new generation marches on, with the title firmly in their sights.