After Spanish tapas, Australian prawns on the barbie and some hot chilli it’s now time to focus on nachos and guacamole.
Who knows what will be in store for us after that? Bratwurst? Belgium chips with beer? Argentinian steak? Bring it on! The Clockwork Orange is hungry and wants more!
We can have long debates about which opponent would be better for us, from Brazil to Croatia to Mexico but by now, you know my theory: you want to be the best in the world, then it doesn’t matter. Same with weather and humidity. Sure, Mexicans are more used to it and one has to adjust to the circumstances. But leave it to Louis. He won’t make the same mistakes as Advocaat did in 1994.
But it will be a physical challenge. Mexico plays in 6th gear all the time and it will be pretty hot. Gaston Taument was part of the 1994 squad in Florida and remembers it well. “It was extremely hot. I will never forget that. It was way too hot to play the football we wanted to play. It’s as if your lungs are empty and you lack physical strength. At some stage you stop sweating. You’re simply empty. I remember that we were more focused on the water bottles than the ball.” Former Oranje 1974 central defender Wim Rijsbergen had to deal with this a lot too. He played for New York Cosmos and visited places like Florida and Oklahoma and coached in Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Chile. “It can be extreme. It’s a matter of getting used to. This is a disadvantage for Holland, as Mexico will not need to adjust.”
A big opponent. I have always been an admirer. Football is HUGE in Mexico and they’ve always had positively focused teams. This Mexican team is well balanced. They can play football Chile-style but have the muscle and strength of Argentina. They also have European experience which always helps in big games, with players like Ochoa, Marquez, Rodriguez and Moreno. The defence of Mexico is their weakness though. Experienced defenders, but slow defenders. With compact playing Holland, players like Robben, Van Persie and maybe Depay will have opportunities penetrating to the channel.
We played Mexico six times, in total. And Holland won three times, versus Mexico two. We played them only once at a World Cup, in 1998. Under Hiddink, Holland took a 2-0 lead but lost the lead late in the second half and ended the game 2-2. This Mexico has trouble scoring (only 4 in 3 games) and they conceded one. However, Mexico was denied two pure goals vs Cameroon and should have been awarded a penalty for hand ball vs Croatia. Mexico will play without midfielder Vazquez who received his second yellow against Croatia.
As you know, Van Gaal won’t be able to play Fer as the goal scorer against Chile has a hamstring injury which will leave him sidelined for at least two games. Martins Indi is fit again and ready for Mexico, although chances are Van Gaal will use Kuyt again versus Mexico.
Wesley Sneijder will join Kuyt in midfield to work his ass off for the two forwards. The little spielmacher was the big man in 2010 but seems to have a supporting role this time around. “I don’t care. I am happy to be of service. I want to win that cup and if I do by running a marathon for Robin and Robben, great! I am in.” It’s a bit strange to watch, Wesley Sneijder playing like a dynamic midfielder, chasing down opponents and running more than anyone else. “I hear the media and the analysts think it is strange. I don’t mind. It is clear for me. This system requires me to play this way an I want to be part of it. I have not become this fit for no reason, hahaha.” Against Spain, Wes had two assists, against Australia and Chile, he was more a workhorse. Sneijder denies that this type of game goes at the expense of his specific qualities. “I wouldn’t say that. We simply have less possession but that is ok. There is less opportunity to shine, but it is not about me. I think we would have been flying home now if we would have tried to attack like crazy. If you judge me on my goals and assists, I’m not playing too good. But the coach is happy and the team does well. This tactics works. We played really well against Chile, which is one of the best teams in my eyes. If we play a tad better in possession, we will beat anyone. Four years ago, we didn’t play amazingly well, but we almost won the cup! I am very positive about this team. Much more than ever. A month ago, no one gave us any chance. And now people consider us to be one of the favourites. And now the knock out stages have begun, I think we will get more opportunities to play.”
Robin van Persie is keen to make everyone aware that playing well in the group stage doesn’t mean that much. “I vividly remember 2008. We impressed with wins over Italy and France. And the so-called B-team beat Romania. And then we got beaten by Russia.” When Sneijder is asked about the reason this happened (Was it the switch to the B-team? Was it Boulahrouz’s private drama? Was it Hiddink’s tactics?). “I don’t know. But I do know that the win over Italy and France lost all its glory in those 120 minutes. So now we have 9 points and 10 goals but we don’t have a thing, really. If we lose against Mexico, we are a footnote.”
Louis van Gaal allowed his players a day off again. Some players enjoyed the beach, such as Leroy Fer, while Nigel de Jong and KlaasJan Huntelaar did a city tour. Sneijder, Van Persie, Van Gaal and Robben went to this open air swimming pool and played some tennis and water volley ball. Memphis Depay had a stroll on the boulevard.
Wijnaldum makes time for an interview. The PSV midfielder doesn’t understand the criticism from his home country. “Most nations and media are positive about our effective way of playing. We might not be playing wonderful, dazzling football but I don’t think it’s possible to play that type of football and win the World Cup. Italy 1982, Argentina 1986, Spain 2010…. It was all business like and effective. In 1982, Brazil had the most beautiful game and in 1998 it was Holland. But winning and playing beautiful doesn’t always match. We might not be very dominant but boy, we can play some great football, even with this system. That second goal against Chile was a beauty, wasn’t it? And the first wasn’t shabby either. First Memphis rocket, then a corner, a great cross and a superb header. What is not to like?” The Feyenoord developed player has learned to put the results first. “In the youth, it’s all about ball skills and playing attractive. But it’s about winning now. We have had so many compliments over the years about our quality play, but we never won the World Cup! We think it is time we do. And this team does not have the quality and experience yet to do so with very dominant football. So we do it this way. We are a fighting machine. A bit like Atletico Madrid. They were seen as a fighting team for a while until people realised they actually play really good football too. We want to win now. But we will always try to find good solutions. Players like Robben, Van Persie, Depay…they can’t play ugly even if they wanted to.”
The AD newspaper asked to former Oranje players how they view this Oranje. Stylist Ronald de Boer and midfield breaker Mark van Bommel. Because the whole nation is keen to know where this ends, as Van Gaal designed a perfect strategy for the material he has. But we are also Dutch. Adventurers and guardians of the beautiful game. We became big with attacking football and aim for perfection. And there is no nation that debates the quality of football as much as the Dutch. Ronald de Boer is a typical disciple of beautiful football. What does he think of this new 5-3-2 system. “It hurts my eyes. I don’t like it. It doesn’t feel right. Long balls into space hoping Robben will catch it. It’s all so unsettled and uncomposed at the moment. Kuyt, De Jong but also Sneijder…they are not at ease in possession. I don’t get it. Ron Vlaar, he is not a born build up player. But defensively he is doing great, don’t get me wrong. But he doesn’t need to blindly kick every ball forward?”
Mark van Bommel was in the engine room in 2010 and his father in law introduced a more business-like style of football. “Still, I see changes. I do believe we were pushing up a bit more and in possession we’d play with three strikers. We tried to press forward. This team is more a counter attacking team. But don’t get me wrong. I understand why Van Gaal does it. With these young players, you need to build in some safety. And it is of no use to go to a World Cup every four years and be kicked out at the group stages. These boys are there now, they want to get far. But it is counter football alright. When we lose possession, we go back into our defence stance. If Robben is out of the game, we lose 60% of our threats. And of course, we all want to play beautiful football but if you don’t have it, you need to do something to make you at least win. Football is not the same as 40 years ago or even 20 years ago.”
Ronald de Boer agrees. “Listen, I coached an amateur team once at the Copa Amsterdam tournament. We had to play Ajax A1. A strong team. And I switched to 5-3-2 and we won. Ajax didn’t know how to break it down. If you play it well, it is very hard to beat.” So the question remains: can you win the World Cup playing this type of football? Both Van Bommel and De Boer say “YES!”. And once that has happened, no one will complain.