That is for sure. Because the fairytale that is Costa Rica might continue ( as the media calls it) but for me, the Oranje Story is a fairytale as well!
I mean: we struggled during the Euros 2012. We lost our complete defensive backline. Our goalie mocked up his career, and months before the World Cup our strongholder in midfield Kevin Strootman got injured. Kevin who???
Indeed! It almost feels like we didn’t need him…
The media in Holland, most supporters, the football experts and former players….no one saw this coming. The draw was a bitch and most people had Holland going home after the group stages! With our 2010 squad, we were unable to get a single point vs Denmark, Germany and Portugal in 2012. Now, we beat the World Champions and South American big guns Chile and Mexico and we can safely say we have a pretty good look in into the semi finals. The semi finals!!!!
What a rollercoaster ride. And we all believed in it, and we were there. Just like we have heard the stories about 1974 or some have heard the stories of 1988, this World Cup might well be a tournament that will be relived forever.
Obviously, we can lose against Costa Rica. Italy did. Uruguay did. England couldn’t score against them. Their defence is solid and strong. Their goalie is more than decent. And upfront they have some special players. We know Bryan Ruiz pretty well, in Holland. He was a connaisseur’s player, when at Twente. He could only score beautiful goals. He was the golden boy of Twente and did inject some class into PSV this season.
But. He didn’t manage too well in England. He picked the wrong club, maybe. Playing relegation football in England is not for everyone. And he did score some scorchers for Fulham. Ruiz is a good player in possession but also worked hard this World Cup for his team. He will able to do special things in big games. Another big name player is Joel Campbell. On the books of Arsenal but on loan in Greece. A great dribbler. Opportunistic player, with a good shot. His biggest problem: he is hot or cold. All or nothing. Another good player to watch out for is Christian Bolanes, who plays in Denmark. Playing from the left, coming inside and has good vision. He is the man where Costa Rica regularly starts its attacks. Celso Borges, playing in Sweden, is also a strong player.
Oscar Duarte, playing in Brugge, is also a key player but he is suspended and will be sorely missed.
All in all, a fun opportunistic team, riding the wave, not unlike Denmark in the 1992 Euros. But it does feel that it will be over and done with vs Holland. With all due respect: if there is one game Holland should win, it’s this one.
On the other hand, this will be the first time that Holland is not the underdog. The players are really supposed to win this game and it remains to be seen how they will handle that.
Because when the World Cup was discussed before the event, anyone would have applauded Holland reaching the quarter finals. But now they’re in it, and versus Costa Rica, suddenly everyone will expect them to win it. That is how football works and opportunistic it all is.
What happens after that (Argentina or Belgium)…who knows. It can go any which way.
But enough about Costa Rica!!
The pale faces of the youngsters De Vrij, Blind, Janmaat, Cillesen – worrier – and others have made place for the stern look of the confident warrior. Watching the lads in the tunnel before the Spain game or watching them now. A huge difference. “We made huge steps,” said Van Persie recently, and he is right. The weak defence was exposed in several friendlies against big nations, but at the World Cup, it’s Italy, England, Portugal and Spain that had to go home early, while BMI, Vlaar, Janmaat, Clasie and Depay are still in Brazil.
Van Gaal: “We might not have a fantastic team with experienced, world class players. But we are unified. We are confident. And we are very hard to beat.” He is right. The numbers don’t lie. In 3 out of 4 games, we fought back from being behind. Against Spain with many goals and good football. Against Mexico, in tough conditions, with character, shrewdness and determination. Is there a chance for underestimating Costa Rica. “No. No chance at all. What the players have as their goal is so big, so immense, there is no place for underestimating anyone. This is the quarter finals of a World Cup. The next step is the semi finals. Everyone is very aware of what is at stake.”
Van Gaal practices behind closed doors and for the first time was able to actually keep his starting line up a secret. Although it does seem he has decided to use Blind as De Jong’s replacement. Meaning Martins Indi will play at the back, most likely with Kuyt next to him on the flank. The biggest question mark now is the right full back. Runner Janmaat, or positional back Verhaegh?
But will LVG play 5-3-2? In earlier matches, Holland was most impressive with the usual 4-3-3. Putting pressure on and forcing the opponent (Australia, Mexico) back. Costa Rica too, will play with one striker when they lose possession, so 3 at the back + a central defensive midfielder is a bit too much. The Costa Rica backs don’t like a direct opponent so it does make sense to go for 4-3-3. In which case, we might see a midfield with Kuyt, Blind and Wijnaldum and the golden triangle up front with the option to mix it up. Or will Van Gaal opt for Kuyt as winger up front? Like he plays in Turkey and used to play in Oranje? Will LVG keep Depay on the bench for a turn in the second half when he is needed? Questions questions, and only LVG has the answers for now.
Internationally, Oranje is being compared to the Brazil of 2002. The Italian media praise Van Gaal and Oranje up into the sky. “In Holland, Oranje is criticised by the media? We don’t get that. They won four in a row. We would be on the streets celebrating if Italy did this. Van Gaal created a winning system that allows the youngsters to grow and gives the older lads a role to shine and lead. The big names still make the difference, but players like Blind, De Vrij and Depay have made enormous impressions on the Italian clubs. Holland might not win it this time, but they are definitely amongst the top of the world.”
The Japanese media: “Holland can reach the finals and win it too. Holland could make it for the fourth time. For a small nation, that is amazing. You can win it, but you could also lose it. Which might become a huge trauma. Anyway, LVG has created the perfect system for Oranje and created it around Robben, just like he did with AZ when he built the team around El Hamdaoui. I loved that AZ and I love this Oranje.”
German media: “Louis van Gaal vs the romantics. Johan Cruyff, of course. But Van Gaal is winning so he should be above criticism. He is able to switch between systems, and this rhythm shift as we call it works really well. We can see you get to the finals and win it.”
Brazilian Media: “Arjen Robben is a benevolent maniac. He is on a mission. It failed in 2010 and it seems like he deadset on winning it now. Oranje reminds me of Brazil 2002, when romantics and adventure were replaced by aggression and effectiveness. We had Ronaldo and Ronaldinho to make the difference. You have Van Persie and Robben. In my view, the birth of this team came when Van Persie made that diving header against Spain. The team was losing. It didn’t have much say. But Van Persie believed in that goal. He dove, without knowing what would happen. And the whole team joined him in that big dive. And that leap was the launch of this new Oranje.”
Belgian media: “I do feel that Oranje is not Oranje, with 5 defenders. But I also believe the Dutch media are too harsh. When Van Basten played wonderful games in 2008 with counter football against Italy and France, the media loved it. Van Marwijk didn’t play too impressive in 2010 and was somewhat criticised. But now Van Gaal, playing with a new team mostly, is at the helm, everyone seems to want him to fail.”
The Dutch players are slowly starting to realise and talk about their dreams to win this World Cup. Vlaar was one of the first and now Wijnaldum as well. The PSV midfielder, who missed half this season due to injuries, is the new marathon man in midfield, in Strootman’s spot. Ask the squad which player is the fittest and they’ll yell “Wijnaldum”. He was 16 years old when he made his debut. The man with the backheel, the stepover, the dribble and the trick. Criticised for being too creative. Now, 7 years later into his career but still only 23 years old, he is battling as the Marathon Man. Asked about his experiences before this quarter finals… Is he nervous? “Not at all. I don’t notice my nerves. All goes so quickly. Before you know it you are in the match, all focus. I haven’t played for a while and I am all enthusiasm. The pitch, the ball, the fans…I’m loving it.” Mexican star Guardado experienced how it was against hardworking midfielder Wijnaldum. Winger no more. Well, my job was to contain him. Make sure he couldn’t create anything. It went well although I almost played right back!”. Wijnaldum’s story is a fairytale like Oranje’s or Costa Rica’s… “I didn’t believe this was going to happen. I wasn’t part of the plans of Van Gaal, I don’t think. And when I got my back injury I thought I was completely out of sight. But the last months I played well and clearly Mr Van Gaal was looking for a certain type of player. I was one of the lucky last in the squad and now I am a starter!”. Gini Wijnaldum knows Costa Rica well. “I watched them a lot to follow team mate Bryan Ruiz. He is a good mate and I think they’ve done really well. At this stage, everything is possible. Anyone of the remaining nations can make it all the way. Us too!”