For Louis van Gaal, the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Final left him feeling strangely conflicted. As a proud Dutchman, he naturally felt inclined to root for his home country as they attempted to lift the Trophy for the very first time. The coach in him, though, looked at the line-ups of the respective teams and saw more former pupils in the blue of Spain than the orange of the Netherlands.

The result, he confessed, was divided loyalties. "It was a little bit double-edged," he told FIFA. "The Netherlands were there, but there were also five players in the Spanish squad that I trained and coached. In the Dutch squad, there was only Arjen Robben and [Mark] van Bommel. So you feel, well, maybe I have to support the Spanish team, although your nationality is Dutch and, in the end, that made my mind up. But [when Spain won] I was proud, that's for sure."

That pride emanated from his pivotal role in the early promotion of several key Spanish players during his time as Barcelona coach. The scorer of the all-important goal, Andres Iniesta, was one notable example, while Xavi - La Roja's conductor - Carles Puyol and reserve keepers Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina completed the quintet. And while Puyol and Valdes will be conspicuous by their absence when Spain and the Netherlands meet again later today, Van Gaal is looking forward to a reunion with three players he holds in the highest esteem.

"I have great memories of them," he said, "and that's first and foremost because these boys are also very kind human beings. They haven't forgotten me, that's for sure, because they're talking about me still. They have developed themselves fantastically well since we worked together, and these boys - Iniesta, Xavi and the others - have for many years been the basis of this successful Barcelona side. So I am proud, and happy too, that I still have a good relationship with them.

"I saw these boys playing for Barça B and I brought them into the first team. This was the case with, for example, Valdes and Reina. They developed into top goalkeepers, as you can see at the moment. But I also brought on Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, and we shouldn't forget Thiago Motta, who you now see playing for the Italian national team. They all played in the youth team at Barcelona, I picked them out, and they have developed very quickly and to a very high level."

Now, of course, the task for Van Gaal is to successfully subdue these same players, neutralising the talents that first attracted him to them all those years ago. That, he freely concedes, will be easier said than done, although he had this warning for his former protégés and the rest of Vicente Del Bosque's star-studded side.

"My team is ready," he vowed. "We've been living together for three weeks now, planning for this game. But we are also aware of the fact that Spain is in first position in the world ranking for a reason. At the moment we are 15th, and that indicates that Spain are a good bit ahead of us.

"We are a difficult team to beat though, at least I believe so, and that is what I try to get across to the players - that we have a good chance in this match. But it is essential that we take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. We all remember the Final against Spain four years ago, and we know that if Robben had taken the chance he had, we would have won. That is what it is all about."

Talk of being 'hard to beat' carries with it the implication that the Netherlands are preparing for this match, and perhaps the tournament as a whole, with an outlook based on defensive solidity. The much-discussed change from 4-3-3 to 5-3-2 would also seem to lend itself to that theory. But Van Gaal insists fears about the strength of their opponents have been no more significant in affecting this switch than other, internal issues.

"Spain are a team that's been put together very well and I want to make it as hard as possible for them," he said. "That is partly why I've chosen this system we're going with. But it also has a lot to do with losing certain players, and the absence of a real left-back in our team. I searched the whole world for someone in that position, but I was not able to find one. Basically those are the underlying reasons for going with this formation."

Van Gaal has also opted for youth, blooding a number of erstwhile little-known Eredivisie startlets, several of whom are expected to play key roles in Brazil. But he is well aware of the importance of an experienced, battle-hardened core in his team, and highlighted four players as being particularly crucial to the Oranje's World Cup hopes.

"I think that I have players who can give the team an extra dimension, specifically the two captains, [Robin] van Persie and Robben, but also Wesley Sneijder and Nigel de Jong. They are naturally very authoritative guys who also play football at the highest level. That is of course important in the hierarchical world of football.

"As for our chances, they are the same as they are for every other country. We all start from zero and we'll see what happens. It is certainly a heavyweight group we're going to play in though. Spain are number one, Chile are catching up and are right behind us. Australia are supposed to be the weakest country in the group but, strange as it may sound, they've never lost to the Netherlands. They are an opponent to be feared. Nevertheless, I can say we have a good chance of making it through to the next round."

The question, should that objective be achieved, is whether the Netherlands can once again go all the way to the Final or, better still, win the game's most coveted prize. Van Gaal, though, believes that history is stacked against them.

He explained: "I always look at tradition, at statistics, and it appears that when the World Cup is played in South America, there has always been a South American winner. In that case I think that Brazil and Argentina are most likely to succeed. And if I were to name a European country, I have to feel that it would be Spain or Germany.

"But as a manager there are so many details that are out of your control, but that is something [Joachim] Low and Del Bosque have to deal with as well. It is very important that you get a good result in your first match. Then you can get into a certain flow, where you are able to improve as the tournament goes on.

"As I have mentioned already, I expect we will not be easily beaten. So we are capable of winning against any opponent. It is tournament football and the aim, as always, is simply to score one more than the opposition."