The temperature is rising, for sure. Not just in Rio (or Salvador) but definitely also in Holland and in Australia!!
You can almost touch the ball and smell the grass now..
And the question on everybody’s mind (in the Holland Camp) is: does Louis have a trick up his sleeve?
The tactically astute coach was clear in the press conference. “It takes something special to beat Spain. They have experience and quality on every single position. It is naive to say that we are as good. But we can still beat them. It will take something special but I am brooding on a little surprise for them.” Spain played some friendlies recently without a real number 9 (as Costa was also injured) but with Cesc playing as a false striker. Although it seems Diego Costa will be ready for Holland, Van Gaal seriously considers the fact that Spain might play without a striker. And he is planning accordingly. During training, in the last week, Oranje was seen playing with Clasie and De Guzman in midfield. De Jong and De Guzman played the more forward roles, with Clasie sitting just in front of the defence as the deeplying playmaker.
Robin van Persie declared he has not been pain free for 6 years. The groin issue he had was a bit overplayed in the media. Van Persie doesn’t even call it an injury. The Rotterdam born striker wants to be 100% ready for Spain and is looking to play an important role against the reigning champs.
The circumstances in Salvador and the other playing cities for Holland appear to offer Oranje Dutch weather. The last practice was witnessed by ex Oranje players like Van Nistelrooy and Aron Winter, while also Roberto Martinez, Everton coach, was present. They saw Clasie make the play from the mid circle with De Guzman and De Jong pressing up. They saw Blind, Janmaat, Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder finish in the box. Sneijder in particular was very impressive, with most distance strikes finding the net and most free kicks hitting the target.
Sneijder seems ready for Spain. The little general had a special week. For starters, he made it clear to all the doubters that he is back. Then he is about to play his 100st international game for Oranje. And he reached the age of 30. “Wonderful milestones, of course. But if we don’t win against Spain, I still won’t be happy. Those milestones are not that important compared to results. And we might not have a squad like Spain or Brazil, but we have quality and if we play our cards right, play tight and manage the turn around well, we can hurt them.”
Sneijder scored twice against Brazil in 2010 and is a famous face in Rio. The Brazil supporters and locals immediately recognise the “little one” as he is nicknamed here. “They are friendly. They mean well. They sell, cheer and wave to us. That is all fun.” Sneijder has a clear opinion about the 5-3-2. “What do you mean it is un-Dutch? That is ridiculous. We will play with eleven. And Dutch football is more than just playing with wingers. We play high paced circulation, forward pressing, using the flanks to attack… That is more than simply a system. I don’t follow all those debates. What counts for me is winning. And if the coach believes 5-3-2 is the way to go, then that is what we do. Simple.”
Asked about his status in Oranje. “I am not longer the captain. But I am still a leader. I think that is something you bring onto the pitch, with or without the band. Arjen has that too, and Nigel has it. We have many great personalities and you don’t have to be loud to be a leader. Someone like Fer commands respect with the way he can play and if you are marked by Martins Indi, trust me, you do check your back regularly. He can be a beast. The team spirit is wonderful. It’s much much better than in 2012 and I will protect it where I can. It’s important at this stage and that is something I know from experience.” Sneijder is starting his sixth big tournament with Oranje. “When I was 21 years old, I thought 30 year old players were old, hahahaha. Some of them retired after turning 30. But I feel so young still. I will play on for at least another 5 years and I intend to be present in 4 years again. You better get used to the idea.”
Nigel de Jong is ready too. Of course. And he knows his karate kick in the chest of Xabi will be mentioned and shown ad nauseum these coming days. “I really don’t care about my reputation. People will talk about you. My coaches are the ones that need to judge me on my performance and contribution. I have always been appreciated by my mates. That is key. I do not feel the need to defend myself for what I do. Whether you think I’m an asshole or a hero, I don’t give a shit.”
Janmaat (24) and Clasie (22) were both informed in the Feyenoord youth it was better for them to leave. Now, both are most likely starting at their first World Cup. “We are both examples that believing in yourself and never giving up does pay dividends.” The youthful fans with their Panini books can count on the patient signing by Janmaat and Clasie. Not that long ago, both players were also keen in collecting signatures of big name players. Janmaat indeed left Feyenoord, only to return after stints with ADO Den Haag and Heerenveen. Clasie refused to go. “A career can be made or broken by one or two decisions. Bad ones or good ones. It’s important to find the right coach at the right time. Alex Pastoor was key for me at Excelsior when I played there on loan.”
It seems that Janmaat is more and more becoming a trump player in Van Gaal’s deck. The right back is playing like a winger and has an impressive number of assists to his name. In particular his partnership with Van Persie works well. A transfer to Man United might be looming for the The Hague born player. Clasie admits to having to pinch himself at times. “I can sit in my hotel room and realising I am actually at a World Cup with Oranje. When I was little I was so busy supporting the Oranje players and now I am one of them.” And it was even four years ago when Oranje reached the finals and Clasie was just out on loan to Excelsior. Daryl Janmaat expected to play a Euro Tournament with Young Oranje but was one of the last players to be exited from the list. “I remember thinking that that might have been my only chance to play a bit tournament, hahaha. Interesting how life works.”
Jasper Cillesen is clearly Oranje’s number 1. Not all the fans are won over yet. Krul seems to have more experience, plays in a bigger league, is taller and seems to be much better with his feet. Van Gaal said about the topic: “Vermeer is the man with the best profile to be Oranje’s goalie, but Cillesen is simply the best in stopping the ball from going in.”
Cillesen saw Oranje lose the finals in 2010 sitting on the sofa with his parents. “I remember the toe of Casillas. That was luck. He went the other way and Robben hit this toe with the ball and he stopped Robben from scoring. A lucky for Iker. Bad luck for Robben. I know Arjen would have wanted Casillas to have made this tremendous safe. That is easier to digest. Now it is just bad luck. So lets hope we are more lucky this time.” Cillesen is a typical down to earth Dutch bloke. “When we came at the hotel, I saw all these cameras and I was keen to know what was going on… Normally, these scenes only appear when some celebrity is in the hotel or someone has died, hahaha. I asked what was the matter and they said: it’s us. Oranje has arrived. I realised suddenly we were at the World Cup in Brazil!!”. Asked about his role model, Cillesen has an interesting answer: A combination of Kahn and Van der Sar. The latter was the better goalie, but Kahn had that big personality. Very extraverted and loud. I think I am more like Edwin, but I do sense a bit of Kahn in me as well.”
We always had sensations free kick experts in Oranje. Willem van Hanegem, Jan Peters, Ronald Koeman, Frank de Boer, Pierre van Hooijdonk and now we have a number of them: De Guzman and Huntelaar can do it. Clasie has a nice kick. Sneijder, Robben and Van Persie are renowned but so is Nigel de Jong, apparently.
Other news: the Oranje players have two rules to abide to re: Social Media. No more tweeting and instagramming after 11.30 pm and no comments about colleagues. These rules are probably a result of the Eljero Elia “crisis” when the speedy winger – not part of Bert van Marwijk’s squad back then – retweeted a sarcastic comment from a fan about Kuyt after the Germany friendly defeat. “Kuyt played as if he still have the box around his shoes”. Elia thought it was hilarious. The KNVB didn’t.
He was also the center of a verbal outburst during the World Cup in South Africa when he was playing some PS3 game in his hotel room unaware that Boulahrouz had the camera on and the whole world (sic!) could enjoy this little bit of expression.