Michael Bell rounds up all you need to know about the Netherlands ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.

It is finally here, the controversial World Cup held in Qatar kicks off on the 20th of November and a day later, the Netherlands start their tournament against Senegal. It is the return to the World Cup for the Netherlands after they missed the tournament in Russia four years ago.

Let’s take a look at the group, the manager, the tactics, and all you need to know about Oranje heading into the tournament.

The Group

The Netherlands is the biggest seed in the group and goes into the tournament as favourites to top it. However, there are some tricky ties ahead for Oranje.

First up is a crucial clash with African Cup of Nations winners Senegal (21st November, who have a talented squad, even without star man Sadio Mane. The African side has been a regular at World Cups and can boast a strong defence duo to Chelsea duo Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly. They will not be afraid of van Gaal’s side and are being tipped to reach the knockout stages.

Netherlands will then come up against a young and hungry Ecuador (25th) side, who came through the South American qualifiers in fourth. Their squad contains a number of unknown quantities, but also real quality. Moises Caicedo of Brighton and Hove Albion is one to watch. Ecuador’s recent results convey they may not score many goals, but they also don’t concede many either.

The final group game will see Oranje take on hosts Qatar (29th), who have been building their squad towards this tournament for around ten years. The Asian champions are organised and aggressive but they are under huge pressure to impress. Only one time before has the home nation failed to make it out of the group stage.

The Netherlands Squad

Goalkeeper: Andries Noppert (Heerenveen), Remko Pasveer (Ajax), Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord)

Defenders: Denzel Dumfries (Internazionale), Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen), Daley Blind (Ajax), Tyrell Malacia (Manchester United), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Stefan de Vrij (Internazionale), Nathan Ake (Manchester City), Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich), Jurrien Timber (Ajax)

Midfielders: Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Steven Berghuis (Ajax), Xavi Simons (PSV), Kenneth Taylor (Ajax)

Forwards: Cody Gakpo (PSV), Memphis Depay (Barcelona), Luuk de Jong (PSV), Wout Weghorst (Besiktas), Vincent Janssen (Royal Antwerp), Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Noa Lang (Club Brugge)

You can read a profile of all 26 players by clicking here.

The Manager

A legend of the Dutch game, Louis van Gaal is in his third spell in charge of the Netherlands and he has galvanised the nation after the poor showing at Euro 2020.

Van Gaal kept his cancer battle quiet during the World Cup qualifiers and the World Cup is set to be the 71-year-old’s final job in football. Although, you never know with van Gaal.

At times he can be outspoken, and journalists still feel his wrath, but van Gaal has made a big impact since his return and many will be sad to see him go. A tactician of the highest quality, van Gaal has overseen 15 straight games without defeat and has a good backroom staff containing Edgar Davids and Danny Blind.

The Netherlands is united behind van Gaal and his vision for the tournament. He recently told a press conference that he is confident, “I want the players to imagine, that’s why I talk about becoming world champions. If you can imagine that, you can do it on the field.”

The tactics and probable XI

Louis van Gaal will deploy his favoured 3-4-1-2/5-3-2 formation in Qatar, which he also used with success during the 2014 tournament.

It is important for van Gaal that Oranje remain tight defensively and progress up the pitch using the wing-backs. Frenkie de Jong will be key to breaking the lines and upfront the partnership of Memphis Depay and Steven Bergwijn could be crucial. Memphis may not start the opener due to injury with Vincent Janssen set to come in against Senegal.

Van Gaal’s biggest decision will be who plays in goal, with Remko Pasveer and Justin Bijlow the two main candidates. He also needs to decide who will partner De Jong in midfield. Against tougher nations, it could be Marten De Roon instead of Steven Berghuis.

Potential XI: Bijlow, Dumfries, Blind, Van Dijk, Timber, Ake, De Jong, De Roon, Gakpo, Memphis, Bergwijn

Key players

Memphis Depay

The life of the Oranje attack, Memphis Depay is only eight goals away from being the Netherlands all-time top scorer and he is already the top assister.

He may be battling back from an injury but Memphis is crucial to the Netherlands hopes of going far in the tournament. The Barcelona star will be relied on in the two-man attack but may not start the opening game against Senegal.

Virgil van Dijk

The Liverpool superstar is heading into his first international tournament having missed out on Euro 2020 with an injury.

Van Dijk will captain the Netherlands in Qatar and will be the central figure in the 5-man defence. He may be having a shaky season in the Premier League, but in Oranje, van Dijk has always put in excellent performances.

Frenkie de Jong

The Barcelona star heads into the World Cup in good form after a busy summer that saw his club try and sell De Jong to Manchester United to ease their debts.

De Jong put his foot down and remained in Spain. He has won his place back in the Barcelona first team and the local media recently stated their feeling that De Jong is playing his best football since joining the club.

For the Netherlands, De Jong is crucial at getting the team moving with his dribbling ability and drive exceptional.

One’s to watch

Cody Gakpo

You will be hard-pressed to find an attacker with better statistics this season than PSV Eindhoven winger Cody Gakpo.

The winger was heavily linked with a move to England in the summer but he remained in Eindhoven. He has since contributed

Gakpo is likely to play in the number ten position and he will be looking to impress some potential suitors in Qatar. Gakpo could be one of the breakout stars of the tournament if the Netherlands goes far.

Xavi Simons

One of the three uncapped players in the squad, Simons has been exceptional since moving to PSV from PSG in the summer.

The midfielder, that can also play on the wing or as a number nine, has scored ten goals this season and rightfully earned his place in Van Gaal’s squad.

Simons has been viewed as a wonderkid since joining the Barcelona academy as a child and he now has a World Cup to showcase his ability. The 19-year-old could be a breakout star in Qatar.

Odds

Netherlands to win their group: 4/9

Netherlands to qualify for the last 16: 1/8

Netherlands to win the World Cup: 12/1

Memphis Depay to be top scorer: 25/1

Form

The Netherlands go into the tournament unbeaten under Van Gaal. The run of 15 unbeaten games goes back to the European Championship loss against the Czech Republic.

11 of those 15 games were victories and four were draws. Recently, the Netherlands topped their Nations League group ahead of Wales, Poland, and Belgium and they will take part in the semi-finals of the competition next year.

Previous tournaments

The Netherlands have tasted World Cup heartbreak on a number of occasions with Oranje reaching the final three times without ever winning the trophy.

Johan Cruyff dazzled at the 1974 World Cup but the Netherlands lost 2-1 to West Germany in the final. Four years later, the Netherlands reached the final again but lost in extra time to host Argentina.

The 1988 Euro-winning side failed to impress at the 1990 World Cup and bowed out to Germany in the round of 16. They reached the quarter-finals in 1994 before finishing 4th in 1998.

After missing out in 2002, coached at that time by van Gaal, Netherlands reached the last 16 in 2006 before losing 1-0 in extra time to Spain in the 2010 final. Four years later, coached by van Gaal again, the Netherlands finished 3rd after losing to Argentina on penalties in the semi-final.

The national team then suffered a dip and missed out on the 2018 tournament, but they are now back looking to finally lift the trophy. It will be the third time lucky for Van Gaal if he can lead them to glory.

Potential opponents in the knockout rounds

If the Netherlands get out of the group, they would face a potential round of 16 tie against England, the USA, Wales, or Iran. Getting through that could set up a quarter-final clash with Argentina or France. Brazil or Germany then could be waiting in the semi-finals.

How far can the Netherlands realistically go?

There is a real sense of expectation in the Netherlands, which is also being repeated by the players and coaching staff.

The group has its risks but if the Netherlands reach the knockout rounds they will fear nobody. The KNVB has stated the quarter-finals is the minimum expectation but with van Gaal at the helm, the nation is dreaming big and there is a chance that van Dijk could be the one lifting the trophy at the end.




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