What an epic thriller! Where to start… I predicted a 4-0 win the other day and by Golly, I could have gotten that one right. If only….our forwards did their job (Robin van Persie!), if only we knew what offside was and if only their goalie had an off day…
We had 14 corner kicks, four dangerous free kicks, three balls denied by the woodwork,forced 14 saves by their goalie and had more than 65% possession.
But we didn’t score. We outplayed Spain that allowed us to play and scored 5 in 90 minutes (4 in 45 minutes even). We weren’t capable of taking down a highly defensive Costa Rica and score one in 120 minutes. And sure, their goalie is good but we should have beaten him at least twice.
Still, every game has a hero and it could have been Robben or De Vrij and it should have been Van Persie but it ended up being Tim Krul and Louis van Gaal… Who immediately shared a moment with keepers trainer Frans Hoek after the game. Hoek prepared the goalies for this and Hoek will have told Van Gaal: in case of penalties, use Tim.
The Newcastle man only stopped 2 out of 20 in recent times but upped his stats by stopping 2 out of 5 tonight. And he was so close with 2 other penalties. And while Van Persie, Sneijder, Robben and Kuyt scored their penalties impeccably and deserve the compliments, it was of course coach Van Gaal yet again claiming the kudos for this win.
For the first time this tournament, Van Gaal started with three up front. The back line consisted – as expected – of three (Vlaar, BMI, De Vrij) with Wijnaldum playing in the De Jong role and Kuyt and Blind outwide. Sneijder in a free central role with Depay, Robin and Robben upfront.
It took some time for Holland to get into the game and to settle as CR was not planning on playing along. As the great ones all know and say “It takes two teams to play good football”. If one doesn’t want to play, the other team needs to either totally overwhelm the opponent with fast, flashy football….or be patient and grind out opportunities. Percentage football, one could say. Holland doesn’t have the flow to take the first option, so we played cautious, deliberate and wanting to wait for a good opportunity to play Depay or Robben in.
And it worked. Albeit that we simply forgot to score. Van Persie had a chance which resembled the Australia goal he scored. A good pull back from Kuyt, who again played an epic game, with a quick reverse pass by Depay but the ManU striker found his shot blocked. Depay had a chance later on from a similar position. He went for the near post but saw his attempt stopped as well. There were not many chances but Oranje dominated the game and it did seem that a goal could be scored any minute. Sneijder was already mentioned by Van Gaal as a potential goal scorer from a free kick and it took another great save from Navas to stop a Sneijder free kick going to the top corner.
In the second half, CR absorbed more and more pressure with Robben continiously threatening the opponents with his runs, fed by a strong playing Sneijder and supported by an outstanding Kuyt. The latter seems to have won the race for right full back now.
In general, the team played well with the supporting actors all doing their job. Notable exceptions are De Vrij, who for me was one the best players on the pitch and Wijnaldum who I felt was very bland and almost invisible. He is a player who can bring a surprise, do something unpredictable but he did what he needed to go (I suppose) but really nothing more.
Of the players who needed to make a difference, Depay and Van Persie were a bit disappointing. Van Persie did get in good positions and worked like a beast but at the crucial moments, the ManU man looked a lot like the striker we saw fail versus Denmark in 2012, missing a complete sitter even on a Blind cross.
Tim Krul can lay claim on the Man of the Match title, but Robben and Sneijder for me are good contenders for that title. Sneijder used his energy and passes where he could and rattled the woodwork twice (one from a free kick and one from open play).
Van Gaal: “This is the best team I have ever worked with. Not per se the best set of players. But surely, the best team in terms of spirit and commitment. It’s a joy to work with these guys.” About the Krul Cillesen substitution. “This is all about details. I did feel that Krul is the better penalty killer. So I took the chance. If we would have lost, people would have crucified me for this decision. But these games, normally the team missing the chances in the game lose the penalty shoot outs. Happily for us, that didn’t happen now.”
Robben: “I think it was only justice that we won. We had so much more chances, and we wanted to play, whereas they wanted to get to penalties. Football has won, tonight. They were stalling and time wasting in the first half already. Our team spirit is amazing and with Krul we demonstrate yet again we do it with the whole squad. We can go far.”
Bert van Marwijk in the tv studio: “I am envious that Van Gaal has this Arjen Robben. When we played 4 years ago, Robben wasn’t fit. The Robben of today would have scored that chance I am sure. What an amazing player. People talk about Messi being the best and all that, but for me it’s Robben!”
Captain van Persie: “What a rollercoaster this was. The ball simply didn’t want to go in. Post, cross bar, goalie…you name it. Crazy. This takes up so much energy. But we did it and we will now focus on the next game. We’re still in it to win it.”
Penalty killer Tim Krul: “I had the feeling I could get a shot at it with penalties. I was doing well on practice. It’s simply a matter of standing as long as possible and watching the ball. You always have a chance. But don’t forget Cillesen’s save right before the game was over. If he doesn’t stop that ball, there are no penalties needed. We are really doing this with the whole group! This is a dream come true for me!”
Its a bit too early after this big win to go and put salt on the snails (Dutch expression meaning that you are going to put your finger on all the little things that went wrong) but it is clear we are not capable of dominating and playing Total Football as yet. We do have the players (Lens, Depay, Wijnaldum, etc) but we lack the flow, the automatisms to make it work. Our game is probably at its best when playing stronger opponents. Well, in the semis, we can go back to absorbing the play a bit more and utilising the space behind the Argentinian full backs as Argentina will try and create more than a team like Costa Rica, playing anti-football.
So we won’t go into too much analysis now. We’ll enjoy the game and realise that the seemingly undoable objective of the KNVB, to get to the semi finals, has been achieved by Van Gaal.
Despite the role of Robben and Sneijder and Huntelaar and Kuyt, it does seem Van Gaal is the Man of the Tournament for Oranje.
I criticised him here as a person (I never doubted his coaching skills) and I doubted his motivations to go to the World Cup but Van Gaal shows that personal ambition and focus can result in people and teams to outdo themselves. Van Gaal is in top form and he is pushing the group to greater heights every day, supported by the incredibly in-form Arjen Robben.
Two more to go!