UPDATE MATCH DAY:
Here is the latest. Skipper Arjen Robben laughs when asked about this Iceland game. “Listen, I played the game already in my head. A couple of times. We’ll win it. Van Gaal calls it “imagining” it and I did it and guess what: we did well.” Robben was pleased to see the quality of the lads on the training pitch. “Everyone is hungry. We all know what is at stake. Pride, honour, ego, etc… We finished third at the World Cup. That may not mean we are the best of the world per se, today, but we have it in us to play any team off the pitch. We are still the master of our destiny and we are very confident.”
In a packed Arena Stadium, Oranje wants to go for the jugular and pin Iceland down. And makes goals. Lots of goals. Team manager Danny Blind: “We want to make goals, and we want to play in a good pace. With aggression. But from experience I know we also will need patience. The pressure is on but funnily enough I feel quiet and relaxed and confident. Our players deal well with pressure. We lost the away game against them due to lack of sharpness. Two set pieces. That tells the story. But Iceland is a smart team, they don’t spill many points and are disciplined. But in terms of quality, they don’t really have world class players. Their players all play at decent level, Basel, Swansea…that sort of level. But we should definitely be able to beat them.”
When Robben was asked about his role as captain, he joked: “I gave the team manager the line up for the game and that was it.”
I don’t like football-less summers and I don’t like the month of August. In which clubs need to start the competitions and play qualification game while the transfer period is still going and teams can lose key players and therefore we, the fans, have to suffer from what I call competition falsification. I mean, if El Ghazi would be bought by Sunderland on the last day of the transfer period, the clubs that played Ajax in the Eredivisie might well protest that their competitors now have to face an Ajax without El Ghazi while they had to play against him…. Etc etc…. I simply do not get why clubs need that long to sort out their bloody squads.
San Marco is back….
But September is here and not only that: the big Do or Die games are on our doorstep.
Who would have guessed that we would get ourselves in such a mess…. Oranje finished third at the last World Cup. And second at the World Cup before that. Not too shabby. In 2010, we sort of hoped for it to happen, with Wes, Raf, Robin and Arjen in their prime. But in 2014 no one predicted it. Not me, not you and certainly not Louis van Gaal. But it came at a price. A large group of players left the Eredivisie to set up camp elsewhere. Most of the back four left Holland, which always affects a player and our beloved team manager left as well. And in their infinite wisdom, the KNVB made the only logical decision they could: they appointed someone who was the total opposite of Van Gaal and forced him to work with Van Gaal’s legacy and his former assistant. Who, by the way, was already given the contract to succeed the new coach on the way to the World Cup 2018. Only in The Netherlands…. Well, at least it is clear that should Danny Blind not be able to qualify for the Euros, his short career will be over and so will the career of Bert van Oostveen, CEO of the KNVB.
Captain Arjen Robben
Poor Guus didn’t gel with Blind and was too fuzzy for the squad, who was used to benign dictator Van Gaal. And it isn’t hard to imagine that Danny Blind was on the squawker with Van Gaal on a weekly basis, making it hard for Hiddink to make something out of the team. Lucky Guus took on the job not realising how much work there was to do and with a series of disappointing performances by his team and the injuries of Strootman, Robben, Van Persie and Vlaar it became clear that the Dutch were not going to qualify that easily as they did in the 10 years prior to this qualifications.
So Guus left. Danny stepped up. And San Marco joined Blind and Van Nistelrooy in his quest to help Oranje qualify.
This Thursday, Iceland awaits in the Amsterdam Arena while Turkey is host on Sunday.
The selection of players Danny Blind presented for the games did raise some eyebrows… Kenneth Vermeer, going through some issues at Feyenoord, is not longer part of the squad. Jeroen Zoet of PSV replaces him. Krul and Cillesen are the other two and the latter will be goalie number 1.
At the back, Jetro Willems is injured (like Vlaar) and Daley Blind seems to be the only real option for that spot. Blind decided to ignore Pieters and Van Aanholt, two players who have extensive EPL experience and picked Kongolo as potential stand in for Daley. On right back, Daryl Janmaat hasn’t made it into the squad, again… most fans don’t get why, and Greg van der Wiel (benched at PSG) and debutant Kenny Tete (only 4 eredivisie games) will compete for that spot. Stefan de Vrij will most likely play centrally, but his former partner in crime Martins Indi might have to start on the bench as he hasn’t had any football yet.
As controlling midfielder, Vernon Anita and Davy Klaassen seem to be the candidates. Wijnaldum can play there as well, as he demonstrated at the World Cup. Clasie (injured) and De Jong ( ignored) are absent. Sneijder and Wijnaldum or Afellay will complete midfield. It is also pretty certain that Robben will wear the armband, with Huntelaar leading the line as RVP is not yet fully match fit. Rising star Memphis will start on the left wing.
Danny Blind will need to win in his first match as team manager and if he does, he will be the first one to do so since Frank Rijkaard in 1998. There has been a lot of debate in Holland about the fact that Blind doesn’t really have a lot of experience as coach. His only year as Ajax coach didn’t end too well with technical director Martin van Geel saying “Danny is the right man, but not in the right job”. However, he did secure CL football for Ajax and he won the national cup so it wasn’t all that bad… At the same time, being a successful club coach doesn’t guarantee a good stint as team manager. Van Gaal himself is the proof of that statement, with his abysmal turn in 2000 – 2002. Joachim Low, the world champion coach, also cannot look back at a great career as club coach, but being a club coach is simply a different job altogether.
It will be quite something though. Our new team manager hasn’t even had the chance to play one practice game with his team. His first game is immediately a must-win game. There is no long term vision needed at the moment. Simply the short term one. Winning. We have Iceland on Thurs, Turkey on Sunday and next month the Czechs at home and Kazachstan away.
Oranje played 10 times against Iceland and won 9. The last one was a debacle and happened to be the one earlier in this qualification race. The goal difference between Oranje and Iceland is 25-2.
Jairo Riedenwald and Kenny Tete are two young Ajax defenders. Both are known talents of the highest order. Blind selected both and left Virgil van Dijk and Daryl Janmaat out. Blind: “I see around 20 games every weekend. I follow all the players and analyse their game. I am all for experience, but when I see experienced players make the same mistakes over and over again, experience clearly doesn’t count for much. I believe in these youngsters. They have something special. I selected them because I think they can do the job. I didn’t make the decision flippantly, but after very careful consideration. The fact that they play for Ajax has nothing to do with it, for me. And obviously, they won’t be starters. I have experience in my squad but I do believe it is good for us and for Dutch football to allow these guys a look in.”
Gregory van der Wiel was asked a lot of questions about his situation at Paris SG. “I started seasons like this before and I always came back into the team, stronger. I hear there is a lot of questions about my ability to play. Ridiculous. As if I don’t know how to play anymore? It is about quality, yes? Who made up that rule that you cannot be selected if you don’t play with your club?”
Memphis “Clint” Depay
Memphis Depay had the entrance in the Oranje camp of a diva. Kenny Tete had a different welcome. He stepped out of the car, driven by his dad, and when the news teams jumped on him, his dad drove off. The young debutant realised his bag was still in the car and he quickly called his father to ask him to turn around. “My bag is still in the boot, dad! Please come back.” At Ajax, Tete seems to have won the competition duel for the right back spot with Ricardo van Rhijn. “I would have been so pleased to play for Young Oranje. It is quite special that the team manager acknowledged our strong start (referring to him and Riedewald). But this is even more crazy. Cillesen told me about the media being present so I’m well prepared. What? Do all debutants have to sing a song? He didn’t say that? Gosh I hope not….” Tete doesn’t count on playing time. “I am just so happy to be here. I have Greg van der Wiel in front of me. He is big player. I look up to him. And I am not really counting on anything else. My first job is to introduce myself to the other players. I don’t think Robin van Persie knows who Kenny Tete is, hahaha.”
Vernon Anita is back at Oranje. The little defensive mid had a stint earlier under Van Marwijk but basically was considered “too light” for Oranje. He appeared to be too light for Newcastle United too but after being patient, he seems to have his starting position under McClaren in North East England. The 26 year old wasn’t called up for 5 years. “I don’t know why I wasn’t called up and I actually never wondered. I mean, Holland has a tremendous talent pool and when you have players like Nigel de Jong or Rafa van der Vaart and more recently Blind and Clasie for my spot, it is not hard to see why I wasn’t getting any games. I was not a regular for a while at Newcastle. so…” The new coach Blind has a special relationship with Anita. The midfielder made his debut under Blind at Ajax, when 16 years old. Anita: “Wow, that is quite some time ago now… But we have many players who can play on that spot. Wijnaldum and Klaassen, Blind… and in the future Clasie, Strootman, Van Ginkel and De Guzman. I don’t count on anything, but I’m ready if the coach needs me.”
Old guns Robben and Sneijder
With his 31 years behind his name, Wes Sneijder could be seen as a veteran. He scored twice last weekend and was his cocky old self when at Oranje’s camp in Noordwijk. “We created this situation ourselves and we will get ourselves out of it. I remember the 2004 Euros when we had to win against Scotland in those play offs. These games are a bit like those play offs. All finals now. And we need to do all we can to be there. You simply have to be present at those tournaments. But it will be tough. Iceland at home sounds easy but it’s not.” When questioned about the second game, Turkey, Sneijder showed his usual grit. “Are you asking me about the second game now? You don’t get it. The second game is irrelevant. We first need to win this one. Then we talk Turkey.” Sneijder played every tournament from 2004 onwards. Three World Cups, Three Euros. And it is unthinkable for him to think he’ll watch this one from his sofa, on telly. The kit managers and medical staff is constantly reminded of Sneijder’s presence in Brazil 2014. He gifted all of them a special watch with inscription. “We won bronze in Brazil, but you were gold for me!”.
With the two international games this coming week, Robin van Persie can enter the Club of 100. He has 98 games to his name and will need playing minutes in both games to reach that illustrious club. At this stage, Van der Sar is still the record holder with 130. Wes Sneijder is on his tail with 115. He hopes to add four in this qualification series and another 4 or more at the Euros. Then it will be a matter of remaining fit as the World Cup qualifiers and friendlies might lift Sneijder past Sar. Frank de Boer has 112 and retired. Rafa van der Vaart is still active as a player and has 109. Feyenoord coach Gio van Bronckhorst has 106, Dirk Kuyt 104 and Phillip Cocu 101. Huntelaar can reach 75 games while Cillesen might reach the 25 cap milestone on Sunday.
Danny Blind press conference