Holland have often been described as the best team to have never won the World Cup and given the fact that they’ve been beaten three times in the final, had some incredible players down the years and played some of the best football the world has ever seen, it’s hard to disagree. And having reached the last four for the third time in the last five World Cups, they once again have the opportunity to finally get rid of that unfortunate title.
Whilst they may have put the previous world champions Spain to the sword in the opening game, they haven’t been as impressive as many people are making them out to be since then. They saw off Chile in the final group game fairly comfortably but in all their other games, against comparatively weak opposition, they have struggled. Against Australia, it was a goalkeeping error which helped them to a narrow 3-2 win. Against Mexico, they were minutes from elimination until two very late goals swung the tie in their favour (the winner being a penalty which they were fortunate to be awarded). They also failed to break down the Costa Rican defence in 120 minutes and needed a penalty shootout as well as a switch of goalkeepers to squeeze their way through.
If they come anywhere close to reaching the standards they set when they demolished Spain, they could very easily win the World Cup. However, if they play like they have done in the games against Mexico and Costa Rica, they won’t be going any further. It’s as simple as that. This has always been the main reason why the Dutch have never quite been good enough to become world champions. Their performances on the biggest stage are wildly inconsistent. They are very capable of beating the best teams in the world on their day. The problem is, “those days” don’t come around often enough. In previous tournaments, they have shown signs of great promise in one or two games but haven’t been able to maintain it for an entire tournament. They have always been a very good side but not quite the complete package and I don’t believe they’re in that small elite group of world class international teams which all of the other three semi-finalists are.
However, what previous Dutch sides didn’t have in previous tournaments which they do have now is a manager, in the form of Louis Van Gaal, who isn’t afraid of making the big decisions and taking the biggest risks. A very small minority of managers would’ve even considered swapping goalkeepers before a penalty shootout but Van Gaal took the gamble. And the gamble paid off. If Holland are to beat Argentina, Van Gaal will need to have one or two more tactical masterstrokes up his sleeve. Make no mistake about it, Van Gaal will be very comfortable playing the role of the underdog going into the semi-finals.
Unfortunately for Van Gaal, the squad he has to work with is considerably weaker than the other three teams who all have an embarrassment in riches in both offensive and defensive positions. Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin Van Persie are the three that stand out in the Dutch squad as potential match winners but they don’t have any world class defenders or defensive minded players which all previous champions have had. Spain’s team four years ago was overflowing with world class players in every position but Carlos Puyol and Iker Casillas were vital in their campaign and for Italy in 2006, the key men were Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon in goal. Holland’s defence is collectively quite strong but they are all quite young and very inexperienced at this level which you can’t say about the likes of Puyol and Cannavaro.
As a result, Holland’s chances of winning their first World Cup look slim. They’ve provided the tournament with plenty of entertainment as always and no one will forget their incredible performance against Spain on just the second day of the competition. However, they look quite short of being the complete package as they’re lacking a few world class players in key areas. Louis Van Gaal will certainly get the most of out of them and his team might prove me wrong but I would make them fourth favourites to win the World Cup.