You know they say this about champions… If you can win ugly and grind out victories when you are playing bad, you can win the title.
This team may not dazzle with gallery play but they sure impress with grit, worksmanship and effectiveness.
We played four games at this World Cup. We won four and three of those we had to get back into the came after being behind!
This team might not have the pass and move total football of 1974 or the overall quality of 1998 but we sure have the tactical smarts, the laser focus and winners’ mentality to take the opportunity when it comes.
So we were trailing against Mexico 0-1 until late in the game. And it was a thoroughly disappointing Wesley Sneijder who put all his frustration in that spectacular volley to score the equaliser, a taunting Robben who simply collected the penalty he was denied in the first half and the coolest of heads (Huntelaar) to convert the spot kick.
I will leave you with this for a moment.
(Me after JanKlas scoring 🙂 )
In my preview of the match I spoke about the quality Huntelaar could bring to the team and like with Kieft in 1988 and Pierre van Hooijdonk in 1998, there are times when 10 minutes of game play is enough to make a player legendary. It is not a nice job to get. As I said earlier, when KJH is brought on, you know we are in trouble. But the coach made the right choices, again, and it paid off. Klaas Jan was key in getting Sneijder on the scoreboard and that penalty he took… We normally do not swoon over penalties. It’s always the flying headers or the long Robben dribbles that get attention, but this particular penalty was probably the perfect penalty, if ever there was one.
Can you imagine. You are only 10 mins on the pitch. You didn’t play all tournament. It’s the last minute of the game. It’s 1-1. If you score, we are in the quarter finals. And to score a penalty in this way, that is just art. Plain and simple, art. With a capital A. Art.
I am processing the game while writing this post. I think I shared with you my concern as the circumstances weren’t super for us and Mexico is really a strong opponent. The first half was quite dramatic. We lost Nigel de Jong very early on in the game and LVG decided not to bring Clasie but to move Blind up and bring BMI back in. At that stage, probably smart. De Jong has a groin injury and it doesn’t look good, I can say (quoting Van Gaal).
We were not really settled and in particular our midfield (Sneijder, Wijnaldum) was struggling, as was Van Persie. Could have been the weather, could have been their form, could have been tactics…or a mix of all. I think Van Gaal did tell the lads to start slowly and to be aware of the hard circumstances. We never really played full throttle except for some bursts from Robben.
Defensively, we were all over the place too, particularly in positioning. 5 Defenders against 2 forwards and upcoming midfielders… I don’t like it. Add to that a very tense Cillesen and there is your recipe for disaster. At times it felt like Mexico was cutting through our defence like a knife through hot guacamole.
We didn’t concede in the first 45 mins but at times it felt like luck. Mexico got lucky too, as we deserved a double penalty when Robben was hacked down late in the first half by two defenders.
Paul Verhaegh started in place of Janmaat and that didn’t really work out well. I never understood this move anyway. Kongolo for Kuyt is a big chance. As is Huntelaar for Van Persie. But Verhaegh for Janmaat is almost literally like for like. And Verhaegh didn’t look any better than Janmaat. Why take that decision? I don’t know…
In the second half, things changed and maybe for the better, in hindsight. Dos Santos scored a cracker. How was this possible, I would like to ask Daley Blind. And Cillesen for that matter. The strike was sweet but from that distance, I would expect the goalie to do better and I do think Krul would have saved that shot.
Anyway, it made the Azteca track back a tad more and it prompted Van Gaal to bring Memphis Depay and resort back to 4-3-3. The whole team played a gear up and bar a couple of breaks by Mexico it was mainly Oranje playing in the second half, with Robben threatening on the right and Sneijder becoming more dominant.
Stefan de Vrij was very close to scoring his second of the tournie on a Robben corner kick but the impressive goalie and the upright saved Mexico. It felt like the equaliser was coming but would the extra time help us win it? Or would we be destined to go into another penalty shootout lottery?
When Robben was fouled yet again by two players in a row when he dribbled into the box but given not even a second look by the ref, it felt like it wasn’t going to be his day.
He had another good run into the box later on, with a wild Marquez lunge, but this time decided to stay on his feet as he had a bit goal scoring opportunity (and the option to pass square to the open Van Persie). Robben took the shot and the goalie blocked it.
Robin van Persie – practically invisible this game – was taken off but his older brother – the referee – would play a part in us getting the victory.
But first it was time for Huntelaar’s entrance. He didn’t get much time from Van Gaal but the Hunter look focused when he came on and with his new RVP-style hairdo, it felt like he could become the day’s hero.
First he cushion-headed a Robben cross back to the spot where Wesley Sneijder had his only good touch of the day. With his majestic right, he took the ball on the volley and found the empty corner to finally put his name on the scoresheet.
It felt like Holland should be able to kill the game in the last minutes, as clearly no one was looking forward to extra time.
In those dying minutes, Robben – again he – started another rush, which ended on the byline and prompted Robben to dribble back into the box again. Veteran Marquez thought “enough is enough” and took a late nibble, motivating Robben to go down. Third time lucky, and the ref pointed at the spot.
With only 2 minutes left on the clock, Robben declined to take the ball. “I guess I could have claimed it but it didn’t feel good. Getting the decision, it’s most often best to let another do it. I was buggered and Klaas Jan felt really good. He converted the penalty in sensational fashion, so all good. I can cry with happiness,” said the Bayern man after the game.
Practically all the players talked about their joy and the tremendous heat. Van Persie: “I am so happy. This team is amazing. The spirit is enormous. I am a big believer. We didn’t play great but the circumstances were outrageous. I have never played in temperatures like this. I wanted to play more attacking than we did, but we simply couldn’t. The space would be too big and Mexico would benefit from that.”
Kuyt (playing international match 100!): “This was so hard. I don’t think I ever had it this warm ever.”
Vlaar: ” We started drinking a lot of fluids 3 days go to allow the body to adjust. I must have drank 3 liters before the game. This was a win of tenacity and patience and grit, but also a result of great preparation by the technical staff.”
Some will say Robben was Man of the Match, other will name Huntelaar. The Schalke striker had an assist and a goal. “This is what I dreamt about since 2006. To be important for Oranje at a World Cup”. In the 78th minute, Holland was on its way home, in the 92nd minute, Holland was quarter finalist. In the 88th minute, he saw the cross coming. “I knew it was hopeless to go for a goal. It was too hard, so I decided to cushion it back towards the edge of the box. I know Wes is always lurking for a lose ball.” When Robben got himself his penalty, he asked KJ to take it. “I do tend to get nervous before taking a spot kick, but not this time. They tried to disrupt my focus but I closed myself off completely. I focused on the spot where I’d hit it and that’s it. I am so glad my patience paid out. Finally I can be of value.”
Coach Louis van Gaal: “Our team spirit won it yet again. This was incredible. We have done our best to prepare the lads but at the end of the day, they had to do and they did. I did see our team was fitter. They were done for, it seemed, from the bench. I never panicked, it felt like we would get back into it and the fittest team won.”
Van Gaal does claim a bit of the success: “I am happy I was successful in asking for those drink breaks. It allowed me to put some details in when we needed to change the game. It’s funny, i wasn’t happy with our game in possession and we sort of fixed that somewhat but now I was unhappy with our pressure on the ball when they had possession. They had a number of distance strikes that we should have avoided. Their goal was also a matter of lack of good pressure on the ball.”
Exacrtly seven years ago, Dirk Kuyt’s biggest friend and fan died. His dad passed away after a long disease period. And here in Brazil, seven years later, Dirk plays his 100th international game. After the game, Kuyt received a beautiful trophy of the Federation and a present from the group. And a speech by captain Van Persie. “The words Robin spoke…they really touched me. I was very emotional. Also because of our win of course. Quite a game to have as your 1ooth game. Robin and I know each other well, for 10 years or so now, and we grew close. Gooesebumps.”
The international media have two main topics, as a result of this game. The Dutch media in particular hail King Klaas. The man with steel nerves. De Volkskrant focuses on Van Gaal first. “The coach prepped his team for this World Cup playing different systems. But when all systems are tried and failed, what rests the team is a system based on hard work, tenacity and passion. At the end of this battle, Dutch values of possession, flair and attacking won us the game.”
The international media focused on the dramatic win of Oranje as well but their focus was Arjen Robben and in particular his alleged diving. There are many fun images of Arjen floating around the internet and I will be happy to post a number tomorrow or so. But today, I don’t want to spoil our fun as we are processing this Mexican appetiser with relish.
In closing, Louis used 20 players now. Only Clasie, Vorm and Krul have not yet had their chance to shine. With Cillesen not really impressing this particular match, who knows… LVG is weird enough to suddenly use Krul. As for Nigel de Jong, his injury doesn’t look good which might well mean we will see Clasie vs Costa Rica!
I need to google what the traditional Costa Rican dish is for one of my next posts!!
Happy times are here again! Holland is amongst the best eight now :-).