Meet the Teams: Holland
By their orange you shall know them. Although the Dutch flag is red, white, and blue, the royal family is from the House of Orange-Nassau.* The House of Orange knows how to do modern royalty well, and remain very popular, and on holidays you’ll see the Dutch flag with an orange pennant at the top. Orange is Holland, and Holland is orange, and the Dutch National Team is simply known as the oranje (pronounced or an’ yuh). As the home team they will be wearing orange, but as the visiting squad they will be wearing all blue.
My fondness for the Orange dates back to the first World Cup I paid any attention to, 1990. In 1989, despite watching very little television at the time, and never having been a soccer fan, I just happened to stumble across a broadcast of the U.S. vs. Trinidad and Tobago game, where a 1-0 victory by the U.S. put them in the World Cup for the first time in four decades. By the next summer I was dating a beautiful Dutch girl, and we camped out for weeks in an Irish bar in San Francisco, cheering for the Dutch as they drew against England, Ireland and Egypt (each game in that group ended in a draw). A year later I married into her soccer mad family, and have cheered for the Dutch ever since.
The Dutch have a long-standing rivalry with Germany, stemming from German occupation during World War II,** and strengthened by their loss–despite being heavily favored–to West Germany in the 1974 final, a defeat they consider a national trauma. Their revenge was defeating Germany on its home turf in the 1988 EUAFA semifinal, and going on to win the championship. That victory lessened the outright hatred of the German side, but the rivalry is still intense.
The Orange are always considered a strong team, but they have never won the World Cup. Three times they have made the final, losing in 1974 and 1978 to West Germany and Argentina, and then in 2010 losing a heartbreaker in extra time to Spain. That year they charged through group play, winning all three games and notching 5 goals while surrendering only 1, and in a huge game in the knockout round, knocking out heavyweight Brazil. In the final, both teams played scoreless through 90 minutes in a very rough match, in which both sides missed good chances, and from the 109th minute on, the Dutch played a man short due to John Heitinga’s second yellow card.
Unfortunately, the Orange have declined since 2010. In Euro 2012 they were in a group of death with Germany, Portugal and Denmark, losing all three games. Despite doing well in the qualifying rounds, they are ranked only 15th in the world, and are in a group with Spain (ranked #1), Chile (14) and Australia (62). They’re a young team, returning only 7 players from 2010, and with 11 of their squad being under 25. It will be a challenge, but a surmountable one, for the Dutch to finish in the top two and advance to the knockout round.
Manager Louis van Gaal has been a successful coach at Dutch soccer giant Ajax (winning three Eredivisie (the top Dutch league) titles, the EUEFA cup and the Champions league), Bayern Munich (1 Bundesliga title), Barcelona (two Spanish league titles and the Copa del Rey), and has recently been appointed manager of Manchester United. But in his previous stint as the Dutch manager they missed the 2002 World Cup. This time he led the Dutch to 9 wins and 1 draw in the qualifying, but in a rather weak group containing Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Estonia and Andorra. Anything less than domination would have been disappointing.
The Dutch have often been known for good goaltending and midfield play, with difficulty in finding the finishing touch. Van Gaal, though, favors what the Dutch call the Total Football style, which took the Dutch to the Cup final in ’74. Total football is an attacking style in which players’ positions are fluid, and no player (other than the keeper) is fixed to a particular role. Because players have to be aware of these constant adjustments on the field, total football requires great awareness of space and positioning of one’s teammates. It’s a demanding style, but places great pressure on opposing defenses.
Players to Watch
Robin van Persie, one of the top strikers in the world, returns for his third world cup. He recently became the top Dutch international goal scorer of all time, but struggled in the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship. He has also missed league games with injuries this year. Fortunately he is expected to be healthy for the tournament, but the Dutch need him to find the mark if they are to advance from group play.
Wesley Sneijder provides the experience at midfield. He seems to be past his prime, but Holland doesn’t have many options at midfield due to injuries to two young stars. So he probably won’t equal the 5 goals he had in 2010, but hopefully he helps keep the younger players on the team calm.
Arjen Robben also returns for his third world cup, and is a solid scorer. Watch for him drifting down the right side of the pitch looking to curl one across and into the goal.
The Dutch, I really hate to say, probably will not get out of their group. Their weakness at midfield is forcing them to adjust their formation to pack extra men in the middle, making up with numbers what they’re lacking–due to injury–in talent, but dropping their front line down to three players. But they played very well in qualifying, and van Gaal has been a very successful coach in the past.
The Dutch will lose to Spain on Friday. The important task in that one is to keep the goal differential close. They’ll beat Australia next Wednesday. And then the crucial game in the group will come down to the following Monday’s (June 23) game against Chile, which will also have lost to Spain and defeated Australia (which will go winless and drawless). The winner of the Holland-Chile game will move on. In case of a draw, the tie-breaker between the two teams will be goal differential (which is why the Dutch need to keep the Spain game close). I’d bet on the Dutch narrowly losing that differential, given their current limitations, so I’d say a win against Chile will be a must. But of course Chile will, to some extent, have home-field advantage, both for fans and for dealing with the climate.
That may be one of the most interesting games in group play, so buy yourself an orange t-shirt and chant “Hup, Holland, Hup!”
*The House of Orange name, ironically, derives from the Principality of Orange in southern France, and the royal family descends from William of Orange, who was a German, but who helped spark the Dutch war of independence from Spain.
**My father-in-law was a young boy during the German occupation, and had family in German prison camps. He has no love for Germans, and once, while driving to work on a winding mountain road, suddenly came across a film shoot involving German tanks and troops from WWII, which left him deeply shaken for the rest of the day.