Can the Netherlands Break Their World Cup Duck?

Ismail Ansar

Can the Netherlands Break Their World Cup Duck?

The Netherlands have returned to international football’s premiere competition after failure to qualify for the 2018 edition - can they finally go one better than prior tournaments and finally taste World Cup success?

Previous Shortcomings

The Dutch have reached the final of the World Cup three times, and each time, they have ended up falling short. Defeats in 1974, 1978 and 2010 have ensured that the Dutch hold the record for playing the most World Cup finals without ever emerging victorious.

The Dutch caught the eye of the football world with their “total football” philosophy in the 1970s, but they were unable to glean any success. They were overcome by host nation West Germany in 1974, when goals from Paul Breitner and Gerd Muller were enough for the win, after Johan Neeskens had earlier converted a penalty after just two minutes.

Fast forward four years to 1978, and the Dutch were once again in the final, where they would face hosts Argentina. And it was once again heartbreak for the Dutch, with the tournament’s top-scorer Mario Kempes bagging two alongside Daniel Bertoni as the Argentines defeated the Netherlands in extra time to win their first-ever World Cup. Winger Dick Nanninga would score the only goal of the game for the Netherlands.

The Oranje’s third and final attempt at World Cup glory came in 2010, when they faced Spain in the final in South Africa. In a low-quality match that was full of fouls, the Dutch were the complete opposite of their tactically fluid teams of the 1970s, with the match heading to extra time. Andres Iniesta would be the breaker of Dutch hearts this time, lashing in a goal past Maarten Stekelenburg in the 116th minute to hand Spain their first World Cup success.

It means that after three tries, the Dutch remain without a World Cup to their name, and their teams of the 1970s are considered by many to be the best to have never won the World Cup.

Can They Beat Argentina?

They certainly can, and Louis van Gaal and his men will relish this rematch – the Albiceleste knocked out the Dutch on penalties in the semi-finals in 2014.

Lionel Messi’s side haven’t been at their best this tournament, being beaten by Saudi Arabia in the opening game, and only narrowly beating Mexico, Poland and Australia so far. So against much tougher opposition in the Oranje, we will see whether or not Argentina have true world champion credentials.

The Dutch will have their sights set on making it to what would be their third successive World Cup semi-final, and they will fancy themselves against an unconvincing Argentina side.

And although Argentina does possess the greatest footballer of all time in their ranks, they can not solely rely on that to get them through. Their defence will have to be in excellent form in what will be a stern test against the Dutch.

Argentina have only conceded three goals so far in Qatar, which does not sound bad on paper – but the South Americans have so far come up against teams of a lesser quality who were happy to sit back for most of the game and hit Argentina on the break, which has meant that the Argentine defence has rarely been troubled.

The Dutch possess more firepower and quality in their forward ranks than the likes of Mexico and Australia, and so you can expect them to give the Argentines a much tougher time than any other side so far.

How Argentina deal with that attacking threat will be interesting to see – Nicolas Otamendi has started every match so far, but he is 35 and lacks pace, while full-backs Nahuel Molina and Marcos Acuna are not the most sound defensive options, given that they have both previously been attacking wingers.

It will be interesting to see how Lionel Scaloni will line up to deal with the Dutch – especially Cody Gakpo. The rising PSV Eindhoven star has impressed at club level this season, and he has replicated that form on the international stage with three goals in four matches at this World Cup so far.

Gakpo has been one of the breakout stars of this World Cup and will most certainly get a move in the summer to one of Europe’s top clubs. He will lead the line for his country in this crucial quarter-final, and he will be the player that Argentina need to watch out for the most.

Louis van Gaal’s Last Hurrah

Van Gaal is now in his third spell in charge of the national side, and it may be the last time that the former Ajax manager manages a game of football if the Netherlands are eliminated.

Van Gaal is, at 71, the oldest manager at the tournament, and considering the recent health struggles he has endured, he may decide to retire after this World Cup. And as it may be his last tournament, could that help motivate his players to go all the way? Oranje are currently 19 matches without defeat (14 wins, 5 draws) since van Gaal’s return, and could add to that record on Friday against Argentina.

This current Netherlands squad does not possess the star power of previous squads, but van Gaal is well-liked by his squad and they are well set up to win football matches. They have a solid defence possessing both Virgil van Dijk and Nathan Ake, as well as Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind who are both reliable performers (with Dumfries a dangerous outlet on the right flank). Attacking duo Memphis Depay and Gakpo have shown they can be clinical in front of goal for their country.

The final may be just a step too far for this Netherlands side, but with the quality they have at their disposal in a World Cup that has already seen plenty of shocks, the Netherlands are certainly in the conversation.

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