Feyenoord defender Stefan de Vrij comes first in our countdown of the top 5 Dutch talents to emerge from the World Cup

  • By Harry Taylor
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At just 22 years of age Stefan de Vrij entered the 2014 World Cup as a rather unknown face to many football fans, however he left the tournament leaving a resounding impression on everyone, making him one of the most sought after centre-backs in Europe. Along with Aston Villa centre-back Ron Vlaar, De Vrij was a rock in the Dutch defence, keeping some of the finest footballers the game has to offer struggling in his wake. It really was a brilliant tournament for the Ouderkerk native.

Prior to the tournament there was a lot of negativity from the Dutch media, the loss of Strootman caused many of believe that the Oranje had no chance, and when Van Gaal announced his side would play a 5-3-2 formation many thought that even with an extra defender the Dutch weren’t good enough in this department. People were aware that Martins Indi, De Vrij, Janmaat and Blind were talented individuals but there distinct lack of experience put many doubts into the minds of Dutch fans. Thankfully the importance of international experience was overestimated by the media as the Netherlands finished with one of the best defences in the competition, keeping 4 clean sheets, mainly thanks to the brilliance of De Vrij.

De Vrij started his World Cup campaign in the clash against Spain, a game the Dutch were looking to seek revenge from the hurt inflicted 4 years ago in Johannesburg. It looked the hurt and misery was going to continue for the Dutch as De Vrij had a nightmare start, as Spain opened the scoring with a somewhat controversial penalty decision given against De Vrij, the Dutchman dived into block a Diego Costa shot but the Spanish no.9 cut inside before standing on the sliding leg of De Vrij which brought him down. However this didn’t affect his confidence as he picked himself up and became even more determined to not let anyone past. This doggedness was highlighted from the 4 tackles, 4 interceptions and 2 clearances made after the first half incident, showing the biggest stage wasn’t going to phase him in achieving what he sets out to. Also not only did De Vrij have a great defensive outing, he managed to prove to be quite a threat from set-pieces, getting on the end of a Sneijder free-kick to knock in from a couple of yards out, giving the Oranje a pivotal 3-1 lead that left the Spanish for dead and really sealed the game.

The next game which was against underdogs Australia saw the Netherlands showcase their worst defensive performance, conceding two goals, after this game they would go on to only concede 1 goal for the rest of the tournament. Although the Dutch were not performing at their usual standard, De Vrij worked hard for his side and along with Vlaar, was the hardest defender to beat. His presence saw him mange to block 3 shots as well as frequently relieving the pressure for his side with 6 clearances, highlighting his growing importance in this Dutch side.

Despite putting in solid performances It wasn’t until the final the group game against Chile were De Vrij and his teams defensive duties would be rewarded, with an invaluable clean-sheet. This was no more than De Vrij deserved as he kept the likes of Sanchez, Valdivia and Vargas all at bay with some resolute defending. He didn’t give the opposition an inch of space as he looked to turn over possession whenever a Chilean player went anywhere near him. As well as this the Dutchman came close to adding another goal to his tournament tally as he got on the end of another set-piece but he couldn’t direct his header goal-wards as his effort went just wide from a few yards out. Despite not finding the net the Oranje were given a platform to build on thanks to De Vrij and co. nullifying the attacking potency of Chile, this resulted in the Dutch being able to push on in the last quarter of the game knowing they were fine at the back, and this resulted in two late goals to secure 1st in what was called the ‘group of death’ prior to the tournament.

Now that The Dutch had proceeded to the knockout rounds, the importance of De Vrij and every other defensive minded player was even more significant as they entered the part of the competition were one mistake can be fatal. Fortunately for the Dutch they had Blind, Vlaar and De Vrij as part of their back-line, 3 of the most consistent defenders throughout the whole competition. With this in mind it was no surprise to see that De Vrij was involved in a staggering 22 defensive actions throughout the match, which included a 100% aerial duel completion as well as 13 clearances. Despite the Dutchman putting his body on the line, he couldn’t prevent El Tri from taking the lead, with Dos Santos scoring from a long range effort. However with the Oranje in search of an equaliser they started to push further up the pitch and dominate the match, and De Vrij once again came close to adding another goal to his tally as he got on the end of another set-piece but the sheer brilliance of Ochoa saw his volley kept out from 5 yards and deflected onto the post. Fortunately for the their attacking prowess shone threw and two late goals saw them progress to the quarter finals.

With the Dutch making the quarter-finals it was only Costa Rica that now stood in their way to making it to the semi’s, and with the opposition being a side that were only ranked 28th in the FIFA rankings at that moment in time, the Oranje were heavy favourites to make it to the last 4. And this was clearly the case throughout the match as the Dutch dominated in terms of possession as well as chances for the whole 120 minutes of playing time. One of the main reasons for the Dutch’s dominance of the latter was down once again to De Vrij, the 22 year-old appeared as a giant to the Costa Ricans and many of them seemed awe-struck when they faced the defender, with him loosing out on only 3 duels in all the defensive actions he attempted in the two hours of game time. This defensive stability from De. Vrij and the rest of the Dutch defence meant that they could take the game to penalties as they failed to score,and thankfully Van Gaal had a master plan that payed off and saw the Netherlands reach the semi finals with an encounter with Argentina being the only team to stand in their way in making successive World Cup finals.

Even though De Vrij had played valiantly in previous 5 games, it was the last couple which really saw him blossom. Facing world class opposition from South America In the form of Argentina and Brazil and being able to supress their attack, keeping clean sheets in both games Is a terrific achievement for any defender, and to play such an integral part makes De Vrij’s achievements all the more impressive. The games saw the Dutchman showcase his aerial and tackling ability one again as he had an average of over 80%. Also especially in the Brazil game we got to see De Vrij’s skills with the ball as he brought the ball out from the back a lot more often and he did so with real style, beating players with ease, drawing comparisons to Vertoghen during his playing days with Ajax. Both games really highlighted how far the young defender had developed over the course of the tournament.

And so De Vrij’s campaign had came to an end, the Feyenoord man was at the heart of one of the strongest defences in the tournament and was arguably one of the best defenders in the tournament, however FIFA did not give him the recognition he deserved as they dubiously opted for David Luiz and Hummels to make the team of the tournament. This was a real shame as De Vrij was heavily involved in keeping 4 clean sheets for his side, which included opposition of the highest calibre, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, most notably. As well as this the 22 year old also provided a goal for his nation and came so close to adding another couple. However De Vrij did not leave the tournament empty handed as the Netherlands won the Bronze medal and he also looks to have benefited from the shop window effect as man top clubs are after his signature. It has been a pleasure to watch De a Vrij throughout this competition and he really gave the impression that his is only the beginning for the Dutchman.

The future is bright, the future is orange!

Harry Taylor (30 Posts)