Ajax leader Daley Blind comes in as runner up in our countdown of the top Dutch talents to emerge from the World Cup after enjoying a superb campaign in Brazil.

  • By Harry Taylor
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blind oraThe transformation of Daley Blind over the past few years has been surreal, last World Cup Blind had just completed a loan spell with Groningen, a rather unconvincing one that left many Ajax fans reluctant to take him back. This reluctance was shown by the fans during his first game after returning from his loan spell, the match was against AZ Alkmaar and after putting in a disappointing display Blind was substituted in the 80th minute, the fans booed and jeered as he left the field of play. This situation for any other 20-year old would most likely scare them, but for Daley it seemed to act as a form of motivation, he was determined to never have to go through such a torrid experience again. Four years on and Blind is one of the hottest prospects in Europe, attracting interest from prestigious clubs such as Barça and Manchester United, and this is mainly down to his impressive outings in Brazil, contributing hugely to the Oranje’s success.

For Ajax last season Blind was starred in the no.6 role, after spending a couple of years at left-back Frank de Boer felt his technical ability and knowledge was more suited to a central role where he could dictate play. The move from De Boer was a brilliant one as Blind adapted to his new role remarkably, he went on to have his best domestic season which saw him named Dutch footballer of the year. However in Brazil Van Gaal opted to play the Ajax man at left-back despite acknowledging he was a better midfielder, this was mainly down to the Oranje lacking severely in quality fullbacks. And so, even though Blind played the majority of the tournament at left-back, the whole world got a good insight into his capabilities as a footballer.

Blind’s opening game of the tournament came against holders Spain, it was a game were everyone thought Spain would win comfortably, the critics had labelled this Dutch side as one of the worst in their history, although this claim was mainly down to the ignorance of the British media as many of the players came from the Eredivisie, a league they have very little knowledge about. However the men from the Netherlands proved everyone wrong as they swept away Spain in a magnificent 5-1 win.

This game was arguably Blind’s best game of the tournament, Del Bosque completely underestimated the Dutchman’s ability as he played with two false wingers that appeared to favour the left side of the pitch, leaving Blind in acres of space, a costly error as Blind has the technical ability to pull off some excellent passes, which lead to the first two goals.  The first was a 40 yard pass from the left touchline that sent RVP through on goal and the Manchester United man leaped through the air and nodded it in to the top corner, a truly spectacular goal that will live long in the memories for many Dutch supporters. The next goal came from another accurate Blind pass, this time from 30 yards and Robben was the man on the end of it. Also it just wasn’t Blind’s offensive play that was impressive, defensively he didn’t put a foot wrong, dealing with Silva whenever he roamed into his area of the pitch and also nullified the attacking threat of fullback Azpilicueta.

The next match Blind was just as effective against a dogged Australian side, the Ajax man hardly put a foot wrong as helped his side open the scoring as he set up Arjen Robben early on in the game, taking his tally to 3 assists in just two games. Blind was also one of the few players for the Netherlands that could maintain possession of the ball, especially in the first half, and try to influence the tempo of the match, as he completed 95% of his passes, way above the team’s average of 80%. And thanks to Blind’s composure on the ball as well as the introduction of Depay, the Netherlands were able to see of the Socceroos and assure qualification to the knock-out stages.

The final group game was against dark-horses Chile, it was a battle to see who would take the honours of first place in Group B and determine which team would have the more favourable round of 16 tie against Mexico. The game was one that highlighted Blind’s versatility, as the 24-year old was played as one of the 3 centre-backs. Standing at 5 ft. 11 it may seem quite strange to play Blind at centre-back but as the opposition was Chile, a side that boasted an attacking front three with no player taller than 5 ft. 10. This scenario meant that Blind looked completely natural in his new role as he managed to keep danger man Alexis Sanchez quite for the whole match, tackling the Chilean on 3 occasions, as well as this Blind made 3 interceptions, 3 clearances and also making a single block, showing he was heavily involved in keeping a clean sheet for his side.

The next round of 16 match against Mexico was the game were we finally got to see Blind play in the centre of midfield, the position in which he shown for Ajax. The Dutchman had the job of replacing Nigel de Jong, the enforcer of the Dutch midfield. This was not an easy job but Blind did reasonably well at shielding his side, although there was the odd occasion when he didn’t protect the back-line enough and one of those occasions led to the opening goal from Dos Santos. However after Mexico scored the Dutch soon began to dominate and Blind was integral in maintaining a high tempo, helping to initiate attack after attack until Mexico’s defence finally prevailed. It was a solid performance from Blind but not his best one, the 5-3-2 is a formation Blind had never played in a few months before the tournament, and so his tactical positioning was not as spot on as you would see in the 4-3-3, also the lack of triangles in the 5-3-2 made keeping possession a more difficult job, leading to more long balls being played.

For the next game Blind was again started in the centre, this time against Costa Rica. The match was one were Blind had little to contribute defensively as the Oranje dominated, possession wise, for the whole course of the match. The reason the Dutch dominated possession in such a manner was partly down to Blind who rarely misplaced a pass. Despite the Dutch not being able to make the breakthrough in normal time, the amount of possession they had thanks to Blind’s calmness meant that the Costa Ricans were completely knackered when it came to penalties, and thanks to Krul’s heroics the Dutch progressed to the semi’s.

The semi-final match against Messi’s Argentina was Blind’s biggest test, Argentina’s front line was full of attacking intent, with Messi, Lavezzi and Higuain all leading the line. Blind started the game at fullback but after a first half that saw PSG’s Lavezzi constantly get in-between Blind and Martins Indi, Van Gaal felt the best was to deal with this threat was to put Blind in at centre-back and bring Kuyt to left wing-back. Thankfully for the Dutch the change paid off and Blind looked relatively assured at the back, limiting the opposition to very few chances. After 120 minutes the Netherlands back-line had done their job, keeping out the likes of Messi to give themselves a chance via a penalty shoot-out. However it was not to be for the Dutch that night as Argentina swept through on penalties 4-2, yet again the Dutch would have to leave without the World Cup.

However that was not the end of the Oranje’s campaign as they had to take part in a 3rd place play off against hosts Brazil. Despite it being a game that seemed insignificant Van Gaal was looking to finish the tournament on a high. Blind started the game at left-back and completely subdued the attacking threat of Ramires and Maicon. As well as this the Ajax man once again showed off his capabilities going forward, giving his side a 2-0 lead after just 16 minutes with a composed finish as he calmly brought the ball down and riffled the ball into the back of the net. Unfortunately Blind’s campaign came to an abrupt end in the 70th minute as he collided with Oscar and ended up being stretchered off, thankfully the injury wasn’t a serious one. But thanks to Blind’s contribution the Netherlands were able to easily dispatch of Brazil in a comfortable 3-0 win, topping off a brilliant tournament for the men in orange.

And so Blind’s tournament had ended, he has provided football fans from around the world with exquisite pieces of football that will live long in the archives. His pass to Van Persie lead to one of the greatest goals in World Cup history, that gave Dutch fans from around the world a feeling of pure ecstasy, but this was just one of the 3 assists that he provided for his nation, as well as contributing one goal and creating 7 chances, the 3rd highest out of any Dutchmen. Also Blind was a rock in defence, being instrumental in his side’s 4 clean sheets. These excellent performances have led to the Dutchman being linked to a move to both Manchester United and Barcelona, both well-deserved moves that show just how far the 24-year old has moved from the days of being jeered by his own supporters to being seen as a club icon.

Stats courtesy of Squawka.

Harry Taylor (30 Posts)