The FIFA World Cup Team Runthrough Thread #2 For 6/12/14: #8 The Netherlands
Photo from Getty Images
De Vrij- Vlaar- Martins Indi
De Jong - De Guzman/Cassie
Robben Van Persie
Key Bench Options: De Guzman/Cassie, Huntelaar, Depay, Lens, Verhaegh, Veltman, Wjnaldum
"Transitional period" was an understatement to describe how poor the Nerthelands' Euro 2012 was. The decline of the team's defense was in full evidence as they were wiped aside by Denmark in the opener before failing to Germany and Portugal in Poland/Ukraine's group of death.
The criticism was massive for the Dutch back home, with Johan Cruyff slamming the team's stars for their lack of final third precision. But what did Bert van Marwijk in was the horrendous defensive unit that consisted of Joris Mathijsen, Johnny Heitinga, Wilfried Bouma, and Gregory Van deer Wiel. Sensing that they were far from being the answer, Louis van Gael has made sure that mistake will not repeat itself with those players.
Instead, the Netherlands chance at redemption from two summers ago and revenge four years against Spain in the final will rest upon a revamped defensive unit filled with young Eredivisie stars still unproven at this level. The Feyenoord trio of 22-year-olds Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi and 24-year-old Daryl Janmaat with be key members of the backline. The question is, will they play in a four man defense or a five man unit. De Vrij is a threat on set pieces but has major positioning issues and can be too rash in challenges. Martins Indi and Janmaat can deliver good balls but can be beaten regularly against elite players, especially Janmaat on simple overlaps.
Against the world and European champions, it is quite the move of trust Van Gaal has in these youngsters who aren't regarded as major world class prospects. Even more bolder is van Gaal going with 25-year-old Ajax man Jasper Cillessen as his #1 over Premier League star keepers Tim Krul and Michel Vorm. Such a massive transformation so soon against Spain and Chile will be examined as either genius strokes made by the future Manchester United manager or costly, unnecessary risks. It will be quite the task for 29-year-old Aston Villa defender Ron Vlaar to lead all these youngsters in the back, as he will be the only one in the starting defense with any major tournament experience.
The only youngster not coming in with major questions marks in defense is emerging left back Daley Blind, who is following proudly in the footsteps of his father and Van Gaal assistant Danny. Although Blind has the versatility to play as a holding midfield, his home is truly on the outside and will be counted on to be the prominent player he has developed into with Ajax over the years. Blind is only being considered for a midfield spot because of the devastating injury to Roma star man Kevin Strootman that could easily be the moment that cost the Dutch a successful World Cup.
But Van Gaal will be determined that Nigel De Jong will provide his usual steel as a destroyer in the middle, while smooth operators Jonathan De Guzman or Jordy Cassie provide quality deep lying playmaking to keep the superstar front three in the final third as much as possible.
Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Snejder are no longer hot shot young stars but 30-year-old leading world class veterans counted on to provide leadership now with their great attacking prowless. So far in the runups, all three have shown that they are still form one of the elite triangles in the game and will be desperate to payback Spain in the showcase opener.
The same can be said of Klass-Jan Huntelaar, also now in his fourth decade of human existence, who serves as one of the best bench options in the tournament. Sniffing right under the 30-year-old quartet of luminaries in this side is 20-year-old Memphis Depay, the second youngest man in the squad (just one day older than Feyenoord defender Terence Kongolo). Blessed with terrific pace and trickery, Depay was one of the standout performers in the Eredivisie this season and is already on the radar of some of Europe's biggest clubs.
Although that time to be an in-demand prospect is over for Jeremain Lens, the Dynamo Kyiv product is proving to be an effective bench option for Van Gaal. The 26-year-old is a solid striker, but will do well to find time ahead of Huntelaar and even Depay. Getting on the field for significant minutes will be hard for 24-year-old Leroy Fer, as he factored in here and there in Norwich City's relegated season. The 6th 30-year-old on the team, Paul Verhaegh, will also struggle for playing time as he is more inexperienced at the international stage than much of his younger defensive compatriots starting ahead of him.
It's those defensive decisions that holds the fate in the Netherlands tournament and whether they will rejoin the sport's elite or continue to be in a peculiar transition zone. The 30-year offensive quartet have no time for transitional periods however, as this likely is their last shot at getting their nation its first world championship. They were so close the last time, but will their young core in the back be good enough to help them there again? Will they even be good enough to contain a determine Chile side with the likes of Sanchez and (maybe) Vidal is the first question that should be asked before any other.
Key, Under The Radar Players:
De Vrij, Martins Indi, and Janmaat: The pressure is on them, and newly made #1 keeper Jasper Cilleseen, to come of age real fast.