With the Netherlands playing in a world cup semi-final against Argentina on Wednesday, the question begs that would the Dutch have got this far if talisman Kevin Strootman wasn’t ruled out of the competition?

  • By Harry Taylor
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strootman efThe loss of Strootman back in March led to serious doubts about how the Oranje would cope at the World Cup, many felt that they wouldn’t get out of the group and those that did felt they would get knocked out by Brazil in the first knock out round. However 3 weeks into the tournament and the Dutch are still standing, they have an exciting semi-final match against Messi’s Argentina and there is a real belief that they can go all the way to the final. One of the main reasons behind the Netherlands success is due to Van Gaal’s tactical nous, shown by the change in system from 4-3-3 to a 5-3-2.  This change in fact came about because of the absence of Strootman, Van Gaal felt he no longer had a midfielder capable of fulfilling his role in the side and so therefore the coach opted to go for a more cautious approach to help protect his defence that he thought would be left vulnerable without the Roma midfielder’s inclusion. So if Strootman never got injured would the Oranje have used the 4-3-3 formation? And would they have got this far in the competition if they did?

Firstly you have to look at whether with a 4-3-3 system and with Strootman involved, would they have beaten Spain in their opening game. In all honesty I think they would have, Strootman and De Jong would have been breaking up the play and adding sufficient cover to the backline, also just because they would of been playing with a 4-3-3 doesn’t mean they would approach the game in a different manner. What I mean by this is that the Dutch would have still looked to soak up pressure and play on the counter, and suspecting Spain would have played narrow and direct as they did in the actual game, Strootman and co. would have coped just fine in nullifying the threats that Spain had to offer. Also by playing in a 4-3-3 it would have meant that Robben would have played in his preferred right wing position, a position in which he can be much more effective and influential. So based on this I feel Van Gaal’s men would have still came away with a win against the defending champions.

As for the other group games, I think against Australia Strootman was sorely missed, the 5-3-2 didn’t work out as it saw the Dutch slip behind in the 2nd half but after switching to the favoured 4-3-3 they managed to surpass the Aussies with relative ease. However the other group game against Chile is a game that I feel the inclusion of Strootman, but more importantly the use of a 4-3-3 formation, could have been detrimental. I feel this because in the actual game the Oranje approached their opponents in a wary fashion, they were the first team to actually respect the Chileans and recognise they are a force to be reckoned with, and this resulted in an elaborate tactical plan to negate Chile and to expose their weaknesses. This is an approach that I think Van Gaal wouldn’t have taken if Strootman was in the side, he would have been too stubborn and expect to dominate proceedings, something Spain found out doesn’t always work. And if the Oranje were to lose this game, it would have resulted in a round of 16 tie versus hosts Brazil, something many predicted and felt it would be where the Dutch would exit the competition.

Regarding the past two knock-out games the Dutch have played, I think it was very evident that there was a lack of authority in the Dutch midfield; the presence of Strootman would have made the tie with Mexico a much simpler affair. I believe the same would apply to the Costa Rica game, also.

Overall it is difficult to measure how damaging/rewarding the loss of Strootman was, one of the main benefits the Oranje experienced is that they had very low expectations going into the tournament and that not many teams were expecting the Dutch to make such drastic changes in terms of systems. However you cannot undermine the skill of Strootman and his ability to command the midfield area, linking defence to attack in a free-flowing transition, he would of given the Netherlands much needed presence in that area. Also the upcoming game versus Argentina is a match that Strootman would have been instrumental in, limiting the chances of the great Lionel Messi, especially considering De Jong is a serious doubt. So based on the above mentioned points, I feel that Strootman’s injury was not a blessing in disguise, just that the significance of his loss has not been truly apparent yet and thanks to Van Gaal’s genius the Dutch have surpassed all expectations and have the cup in their sight!

Harry Taylor (30 Posts)