Tag: Holland

NL – Ecuador Running Commentary

Guys, we will give this a try. Live commentary from yours truly.

Oranje to start with three changes in the team: Koopmeiners for Berghuis and Klaassen for Janssen. Gakpo will move up to Janssen’s spot up front and Klaassen on 10. Timber replaces De Ligt. Van Gaal opts for muscle in midfield against the strong Equadorians.

I will make some comments during the match while watching and I’ll update after every comment.

The players are coming out. Silly fireworks and dramatic muzak and light effects. Jules Rimet will turn in his grave.

Ok. Ad break.

Virgil is leading the team out.

Ecuador will set up as 5-4-1, it might well become a midfield battle.

1′ Good aggressive start. The pace and intensity need to be good.  Strong tackle from Timber

2′  wayward pass Van Dijk. It’s still assessing and scanning.

5′ 1-0.amazing goal Gakpo. Deep pass by Ake, Bergwijn seems to lose possession, but Klaassen anticipates well, assist to Gakpo and a hard shot in the corner, like a rocket. Great start.

8′ Spell of possession for Ecuador,

10′ Oranje is putting in a good shift, closing down the spaces. Good forward pressure by our defence too.

12′ More possession for Ecuador. Holland still a bit rushed in possession.

14′ Valencia trying it solo. Timber lets it run out of play. Dutch in control even without Frenkie touching the ball often. Lots of possesion at the back. So far so good.

17′ We’re better without the ball. Our build up is sluggish still and looks indecisive. But… 1-0.

18′ Ake is the main forward passer at the moment.

23′ counter by Ecuador after ref gives Dutch throw in to Equador. Cross into the box results in sustained pressure and scary moments in the Dutch box. Good defending on excellent cross by Ecuador. We turn around possession but then immediately are wasteful.

26′ We’re getting too many fouls against us. This time Timber again. We need to be calmer on the ball and keep it in the team for more than 3 touches.

28′ We need to man up now and show leadership. Ecuador is smelling blood.

30′ Excellent dribble De Jong, almost got Gakpo through . Now sustained pressure from the Dutch, resulting a corner.

32′ Koopmeiners is playing well. Frenkie is finding his groove too. But Ecuador loves to counter. Valencia with the rocket on goal and a good safe by Noppert. Corner Ecuador.

34′ Good move from Oranje, deep pass Blind on Klaassen, quick feet by Bergwijn and a deep pass from Dumfries on Gakpo just too heavy.

36′ Noppert rules in the box. Equador still on the hunt, with Gakpo defending now as well.

39′ Bergwijn has done more in 40 minutes than in the full match v Senegal.

42′ Valencia is getting a bit frustrated with his shadow, Jurrien Timber.

44′ This is what I don’t like about Dumfries, he gets the ball in his own half and has space to attack but his pass to Bergwijn isn’t good enough. Not fast enough and a bit behind Bergwijn. That needed a better ball

47′ Free kick Ecuador. Great cross. Don’t think it was a corner, but it’s given. Shot from distance, after the corner, and deflected into the goal. Noppert’s sight was blocked so the goal is not allowed.

Half time. We are leading 1-0, which is great. Quickest goal for the World Cup so far, but the game is not going our way. We look dangerous at times but can’t string more than 3 passes together. Ecuador sees more of the ball and has more proper build up play. We seem to be out of shape, with too many players behind the ball, slow ball circulation and too hasty when trying to find an attack. Klaassen had the assist, yes, but I would like to see a more composed ball player in his place. Taylor maybe. Or Berghuis. Ake is playing really well. Timber has his hands full and Dumfries is good in the duels but wasteful in possession. We need more from Bergwijn too. I think a 4-3-3 fits this opponent better. They play with one striker, why use 3 at the back. Ake is the free man and he does well with his passing but needs to dribble into midfield more. That and crisper, faster passing is what will open up this opponent.

Memphis will come on at some stage in this second half. Maybe for Bergwijn, maybe for Klaassen.

45′ Memphis for Bergwijn.

49′ 1-1 Enner Valencia. Loss of possession in midfield by Timber, who is not where he needs to be. Ecuador uses the gap and shoots a rocket at Noppert who paws it in the path of Valencia. Poor goal to concede.

58′ Holland isn’t playing to their strength. Only one shot on goal and that was the early goal. Sometimes, the early goal isn’t helping. It makes players a bit complacent and it invites the opponent to play without the shackles on.

59′ Oh boy, an amazing shot on goal by Ecuador, hitting the cross bar. The bar is still trembling, as is Noppert.

60′ Dutch is getting bullied off the ball and players start to get agitated. Ecuador is playing better.

63′ Game is end to end and opening up now. Some good moves by Oranje but also the Ecuador counter threat.

65′ Pfff Koopmeiners is constantly open but is ignored, sluggish passing. You can call it patience, but also indecisiveness.

66′ Finally a shot by Oranje, good move to get Koopmeiners to pull the trigger, but he scores a Rugby three-pointer.

What will Van Gaal’s next move be? Lang? Luuk de Jong?

68′ Berghuis is coming on, seemingly. For Klaassen probably.

70′ Yep. Berghuis in. We need more midfield control.

72′ More wasteful game play by Oranje. Not looking good. We can still win this or draw this but the performance will keep Van Gaal (and me) awake at night.

73′ Gakpo on his way in offside position. But misses.

77′ Ref is very whistle happy against us. He sees fouls where there is merely some manly duels.

78′ Weghorst anf De Roon getting ready. Wout for Cody, De Roon for Koopmeiners, most likely. Van Gaal wants the win and sees he needs to do it with plan C. Holland is playing really poor, across the pitch. Dumfries, Timber needs a lot of fouls. Ake, Van Dijk and Blind are ok, the rest are struggling.

80′ Weghorst just gifted the ball to Ecuador allowing them an attack, resulting in a corner. Well done Wout

81′ Wasteful attempt.

85′ Free kick for Ake, halfway Ecuador half. Lets put Wout at work. Wasteful cross by Berghuis.

87′ Valencia is on the floor. Not sure what happened. Valencia being stretchered off. Sad.

90′ Six additional minutes.

91′ Terrible backpass by Ake. Noppert in problems and hitting the ball against the attacker. The ball goes behind for a goal kick. Oranje very wasteful.

93′ It’s all Ecuador, really. We can’t even set up an attack.

94′ Ecuador throw where Oranje deserved it. Ecuador playing to win. One more corner.

95′ No danger. Fizzes out. Holland with a throw. Holland just hits the ball upfield when thet can, hoping for the final whistle.

96′ Game over. 1-1. What a disappointing match this was.

I said Koopmeiners was playing ok. Overall I think he was simply again not quick enough in his handling and thinking. Frenkie played ok defensively but couldn’t add enough in an attacking sense. It seems Koopmeiners is too much the same, in a way and like I said before, plays too much in one pace. Berghuis came on and didn’t do much better to be honest.

I think Van Dijk, Ake, Blind, Frenkie and Gakpo deserve a positive rating for the game. Noppert was good too. Great to see him rule the whole box when crosses come in. Koopmeiners and Klaassen were not good enough. neither were Timber and Dumfries on the right, and Bergwijn and Memphis up front.

We are still in it, but will we win it? Like this? Not a chance. I think we need some firm action. Either, a real confidence booster v Qatar, and/or a system change and/or a change in personnel. Is it ok to ask to see Simons or Lang versus Qatar?

Your comments please? I’m off to bed.

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Oranje Lessons for Louis van Gaal

This is LVG’s third stint. 8 years ago, we celebrated a tremendous win over World Cup holders Spain, with the 1-5 in Brazil, while earlier on – during his first stint – Louis was tarred and feathered.

How does Louis deal with lessons learned?

It was a rare situation, back in 2001. The players came out of the change rooms after the match and had to ask the journalists whether they knew what the plans of Van Gaal were, with his weird substitutions. Irish midfielder Jason McAteer had just scored for the hosts and Van Gaal took man of the match Marc Overmars off and put Gio van Bronckhorst on. Central striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was already on the pitch, but this time as a winger. No one could understand it, and the players the least! What was Louis thinking?

Overmars himself wondered… “Do you know why was subbed?” Patrick Kluivert actively asked several jounalists. “Do you know what Van Gaal was wanting? I have no clue!” Jaap Stam asked whether Van Gaal had had his press conference already. And Frank Stapleton, former striker for Man United, Ajax and the Irish National Team said: “We want to thank the Netherlands for the substitutions made by coach Van Gaal”.

In 1998 and 2000, Oranje was kicked out of the tournaments due to bad penalty series. The golden generation of Kluivert, Davids, Seedorf, Overmars and Stam was keen to get some revenge. The qualification series started in a positive way. The buoyancy was palpable with the former success coach of Ajax and Barca at the helm.

Under Rijkaard, Oranje beat Yugoslavia 6-1. According to Van Gaal, that match was going to be the norm for Oranje. But under Van Gaal, the Oranje stars never reached that level. While they did manage to get to the semi finals with a similar squad in 2004, under Dick Advocaat.

The dramatic first LVG stint was all the fault of the players, so said Van Gaal. The lads were not open to LVG’s serious, professional and intense approach. Which puzzled him, as he worked with most of them at Ajax and Barcelona before. The players used this exact stance as the reason why it didn’t work. The youngsters from 1995 had grown, developed. They won trophies and went from talents to leaders on the pitch. Players like Stam, Van Bronckhorst, Overmars, Davids had a different status. None of them were going to accept the police man’s approach by Van Gaal. No fines when the laces weren’t done properly. No reprimandes needed for when a player didn’t tuck his shirt in. The players were used to the friendly vibe of Hiddink and the laissez-fair mentality of Frank Rijkaard. These coaches could crack the whip alright, but only when they really needed to. Van Gaal approached the NT role as a club coach, with a key role for fysio Raymond Verheijen.

The players first shared their misgiving informally and off the record. Captain Frank de Boer went into dialogue with Van Gaal and the latter was flabbergasted. “They have a different idea about professional sports and management. That is disappointing. I want to rule out coincidences. I do not believe in a loose approach! When Frank tells me the players just want to be playing football volley or tennis and have a nice time, I am completely flabbergasted and dumbfounded. If that is the new norm… pff…. I expect my players to be hungry, to have ambition!”

“I expect to go back to being a club coach. I have more control and can work with my players daily.”

Louis does self-reflect and will always evaluate himself. This means, the man will develop and change over time. In 2000 and 2001, the key was attacking, dominant posession based football. But in 2012, he decided that that generation of players was not able to bring that type of football. Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie could, but they were getting older. The group of players in the mid 20s lacked the absolute world class of the generation before them. We went from Ronald de Boer, Davids, Seedorf, Cocu to De Guzman, Fer and Nigel de Jong.

When he starts in the second stint, in 2012, he starts with a group session. All players are invited to speak and deal with the issues they encountered under Van Marwijk at the Euros. Van Gaal listens and observes. He wants to see who are the rotten apples, and which players demonstrate leadership. Dirk Kuyt, Wes Sneijder, Nigel de Jong and Arjen Robben speak up. Substitutes should not be able to impact the vibe in the group. Players who can’t deal with not playing need to stay home. Sneijder: “I do not want some guy to ruin five weeks of my life again.”

“When Wesley Sneijder wins the ball in midfield, you need to cheer like this!”

After the meeting, the Brazil manifest is made up. All players sign it. Oranje wins every match in the qualification series, but Van Gaal gets a fright when playing France in a friendly, 3 months before the World Cup. Oranje loses 0-2 but worse: it cannot force their plans onto the opponent. Van Gaal instructs his analytical right hand man Danny Blind to analyse the way Juve and the Italian NT play, with 3 or 5 at the back. Van Gaal prefers to call it the 1-3-1-4-2, it sounds less defensive.

Van Gaal has a couple of big meetings planned. He needs to convince Van Persie and Robben of his plans. The former is quickly convinced, when he sees Feyenoord win in Eindhoven versus PSV as Koeman uses the 5-3-2 with success. The second big job is to get Sneijder fit. The life loving playmaker loves life a bit too much and is not longer as fit as he was in 2010. Life in Turkey is easier than life in Milan or Madrid. Van Gaal has a go at Sneijder publically and he takes the captains band from the midfielder. Sneijder is furious and starts a training program under Henk ten Cate on Ibiza. When Sneijder arrives at the prep trainings camp, his tests seem unreal. There must be a technical glitch. They want him to do the tests again with calibrated machinery. The same results. Van Gaal is gobsmacked, but in a good way!

Wesley Sneijder is considered not fit enough. When the journo asks Van Gaal what he will do when Sneijder is fit enough to tackle and win the ball, the narcissistic coach yells: “I will CHEER for him. CHEER!!!”

Sneijder: “He is a genius, but a crazy one. He annoyed me every couple of days with his antics, also during the tournament, but he did so to spice me up and it worked.”

“When will you win the ball for us?”

Van Gaal has exactly 22 days from start of prep to the first match v Spain. In those days, he’s sculpting his team into something new: the provocative press. Meaning, not too high on the pitch. But enough for the opponent to want to attack Oranje, and when that occurs, space will open up for the likes of Robben or Memphis to use. The distance between players can never be more than 15 yards. Whenever this doesn’t work out, LSV switches back to 4-3-3, he would do this a number of times during the tournament.

“Bloody ‘ell mate, win a ball for us!!”

Memphis Depay is a bit player in Oranje. He is seen as a potential game changer, like Noa Lang is now. But when the mercurial forward tricks Van Persie at a closed off practice session, the Man United star doesn’t stand for it and tackles the youngster hard from behind. When he’s writhing on the pitch, Van Persie also gives him an earful. Memphis is so angry and hurt, that he starts crying after the practice session and Patick Kluivert does what he can to calm the PSV player down. Later that night, Robin van Persie goes to Memphis’ room to apologise and hug it all out. A line in the sand.

As Van Gaal has been quite clear to his players: there is only one goal: achieving success! No man is bigger than the team!

“I am not asking again!! Win possession back!!”

The former Antwerp player didn’t just change his tactics, he also relaxed his overall management style. Van Gaal notices on the day before the Spain match that the players are tense, nervous. So on the morning of the Spain match, he proclaims that they’ll have a quiet day and he invited the wives and kids to come to the players hotel to spend half the day with the whole family.

All the players will later also explain how Van Gaal and Danny Blind have been able to give the squad a details run-down of all scenarios they can encounter in a given game. And practically everything they experience in the matches have been prepped and discussed before hand. The only secret Van Gaal and Blind have, is what they’ll do in case of penalty shoot outs. Keeper coach Frans Hoek has convinced Louis that in case of penalties, Cillesen needs to make way for Tim Krul. The Valencia goalie does not have great stats in this, while Krul has a reputation of being a penalty killer.

Tim Krul is in the know, though. And in the players’ bus, the then Newcastle goalie reserves two seats for himself. The players think he needs to stretch his legs. But he actually analyses the penalty kickers of the opponents, without the other players noticing.

Later in the tournament, Krul is the hero when he stops to pens versus Costa Rica.

Oranje has to shoot penalties in the semi finals versus Argentina as well. By then, the third sub has been used. In hindsight, Van Gaal regrets having subbed Van Persie for Huntelaar as Cillesen can’t stop a single pen and Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder miss for Holland. In an exciting losers finals, Oranje beats Brazil (goals by Van Persie, Blind, Wijnaldum ) and takes home the bronze.

“Ok, so you score a goal. Fine. But I will only cheer for winning the ball back.”

Louis has demonstrated that he is able to be flexible. It does take a time span of 20 years to see this. He went from a strict drill sergeant in 2000 to the flexible and opportunistic coach in 2014 and the warm and friendly uncle in 2022.

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Oranje keen to polish tactics

Louis van Gaal is leading the way in our Nations League Group but for him, it’s not about the Nations League. It’s all about prepping for the World Cup. And with difficulties, as the playing calendar means he has to shuffle the pack in order to keep players healthy.

The Oranje tactics work. For LVG. The two training sessions of the past days were defined as “fantastic” by the 70 year old. He is quite happy with the Oranje progress.

It seems the questions are being answered. Not necessarily in a positive way, but still.

De Ligt as left centre back is not something we’ll see Van Gaal do again.

I believe Hateboer and Teze will have to be concerned by competition from Rick Karsdorp and who knows, Devyne Rensch should he make that spot his at Ajax.

Koopmeiners is put on notice by Van Gaal: “I want to see the dominant Koopmeiners I know from Atalanta. He hasn’t played like that in the orange jersey yet and Van Gaal needs to see more.

When asked about the system change in the Wales match (when the 3 forwards changed positions in the 20-something minute): “That also hinges on how the opponent plays. The way we started versus Wales can work, but Wales didn’t play the way we expected them. So in that case, it made sense to switch it. We played Noa Lang on the #10 role and our game improved as a result.”

LVG now calls the system, the 3-4-3 and the wingbacks/midfielders are key in creating triangles everywhere on the pitch. And thus it’s possible that forward Bergwijn is playing deeper than wingback Malacia, who was on hand in the final seconds to cross the ball to the striker.

Van Gaal kept his cards close to his chest re: the starting line up versus Poland. It’s certain that either Ake or Blind will play on the left centre back spot. I think we’ll see Cillesen again and as Lang and Vincent Janssen will be on the stands, it seems Klaassen or Berghuis will start, as will Memphis, who will captain the team. This might indicate that De Vrij will start on the bench, and De Ligt will be the central defender, with Timber to his right.

I hope LVG gives Gakpo another go, as the youngster drowned a bit versus Wales, amidst a team of fortune-seekers. With the more settled players around him (Frenkie, Memphis), we can expect a better Gakpo. He was voted the best player of the Eredivisie last season and I’m convinced he can do better than he did last Wednesday.

Janssen made an impression at training, becoming the top scorer at practice in the 5 v 5 matches, scoring some beauties with his left and right foot. Still, Van Gaal will treat him like he did Schouten and Martins Indi. “He is part of the group, so he is with us pre-match, in the dressing room and he can experience how we do things and what he can expect. Once he has that experience, he will be part of the squad. Vincent will play versus Wales, coming Wednesday.”

Vincent Janssen, standing on the right, celebrating his goals at practice

The Polish counterpart of Van Gaal has used his top players versus Belgium and some – like Lewandowski – might be rested for the Oranje game. It seems the coach wants to use his big guns in their home game next week against Belgium.

There is quite a lot of murmur re: the players from Young Oranje and the wish of many to see players like Brobbey and Geertruida in Oranje. Geertruida has indeed made amazing progress under Arne Slot and deserves a call up. He can play central as well and he can play as a defensive midfielder even. Geertruida is definitely a better option than Hateboer.

Brobbey is a real fan favorite. He scores goals, he has an impressive physique and he’s a funny guy in interviews. But is he ready to solve our #9 issues? Is he the killer in the box? According to the experts, Brobbey is not ready yet to play the full 90 minutes at top level and simply needs to play, week in week out first.

It seems Brobbey might be a better “Oranje striker” than Vincent Janssen, but it feels right that LVG tests Janssen now and allows Brobbey to hone his skills at a lower level. Should Brobbey get playing time in the coming season and if he keeps on finding the net, he’s most likely in the WC squad.

Poland is not a bad opponent to have for Holland. We played them in the previous Nations League and beat them twice. The last time we lost against them was in 1980, some 42 years ago! Dennis Bergkamp is Holland’s top scorer versus the Polish, with 3 goals.

Memphis can make further steps up on the Oranje all-time topscorers list. One goal vs Poland and Memphis equals the tally of one Klaas Jan Huntelaar. The Van Persie record of 50 goals might be crushed by Memphis before the World Cup starts.

Brobbey, lamenting a missed chance

The Poland match is in De Kuip, in Rotterdam. Traditionally, Oranje’s bunker. Since 2007, Oranje won all their games in Rotterdam. The players love playing there because of the vibe and the perfect pitch. The only thing is: the VIPs have to use dirty old toilets….

Turkish ref Halil Meler is officiating the match. Feyenoord knows him well. He was the referee in the Slavia Prague game, where he showed eight yellow cards, of which five for the Feyenoord players.

The line up I expect:

Cillesen

Dumfries – Timber – De Ligt – Blind – Malacia

Frenkie – Berghuis

Klaassen

Bergwijn – Memphis

With sub turns for Gakpo, Schouten and Weghorst.

Oranje will win 3-0: Memphis, Klaassen and Berghuis scoring.

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Sloppy Oranje does just enough

“I want to see how these guys do under pressure. When they’re playing a match for real. To see how they cope with the Oranje Stress”. The words of Louis van Gaal when he announced to play 11 new lads for the Wales game.

The so-called “Black Team” as he calls them. This is the team of subs, dressed in black jerseys during practice, who won against the A Team twice at training. “This never happened to me before. The Black Team was better at the high press than the so-called A-Team. Although, I don’t call them A or B Team. They’re all Oranje internationals.”

Van Gaal had decided weeks ago already, with an eye on the schedule (4 games in 8 days) that he was going to use a completely different team versus Wales. What worked in Louis’ favour, was the win over Ukraine by Wales, getting them their first World Cup ticket in centuries (…). The Welsh coach also played a lot of new names and their super star Gareth Bale started on the bench.

The result? A sluggish game. Two teams well versed in tactics and the Wales coach copied the system LVG played, which resulted in a bit of a stalemate first half, from a tactical perspective.

Add to that the sluggish start by Oranje and the sloppiness on the ball and we were looking at a below-par first half.

Van Gaal started with De Ligt on the left hand side of the central defenders. Very much against his own philosophy. And it showed. The build up from the left was slow and with his right, De Ligt constantly “forgot” to play in Malacia.

The Dutch Tactical Maestro and next to him, Louis van Gaal

De Vrij wasn’t able to shine in this department either, as Gakpo and Weghorst were not able to find any space. Lang drifted in true Memphis style, but the tactical set up of Wales blocked any potential move through their ranks, also because the ball circulation pace was too slow.

After 25 minutes or so, Van Gaal instructed Blind to make some changes. Van Gaal had started with a 3-4-2-1 system, but as Gakpo and Lang were struggling, he decided to get Lang back to midfield proper, and push Gakpo next to Weghorst.

Slowly, Holland got more grip on the midfield and controlled the game, without creating serious chances in the first half.

Koopmeiners played a poor first half, not able to accelerate the game with his passing, as he tends to play in one pace, when he’s in Oranje. Schouten, on the other hand, impressed more. He showed some typical Frenkie-turns and is keen to find the forward pass. He takes risks, and is constantly available for a give and go. His only “weakness” is that he seems to refuse to use his left foot.

Jordan Teze impressed Van Gaal as a PSV player, but the youngster got a yellow card early in the game – the Swedish ref needs to find a nice music band to join so he can whistle all day long – and that seemed to be a heavy burden. Teze played insecure, his forward press was at times too slow and his passing was sub-par. He will get more chances in Oranje but he will have to deal with De Vrij, De Ligt, Timber and maybe even Veltman or Schuurs before he gets the nod again, me thinks. We’ll see him again now, I think, but moving forward, he will need to improve.

Another player who will struggle to wear the orange again is Hans Hateboer. The sympatico Atalanta players is simply lacking speed in handling. He dwells on the ball, his positioning at times is poor and without his killer sliding tackle he would have had egg on his face a couple of times. Time for Karsdorp!

Oranje got some half chances, but late in the first half, Cody Gakpo should a bit of his magic when he wriggled his way past a defender in the box and almost slotted the ball home. A late block had the ball richoche’d behind the goal.

Noa Lang would end up being the key player in the second half to turn things Oranje’s way. Van Gaal wanted more pace, more intensity and more simple one/two touch football. Enter Noa Lang.

Started as a forward but pushed back into midfield, where the roaming AC Milan target was strong in possession and was constantly looking to create something. His heat map will be interesting.

The Koopmeiners 0-1 came from the movement of Lang. Picking up the ball around the middle line, a couple of give and goes, then a move to the left and when Malacia played in Schouten, Lang made a forward run which gave Koopmeiners the space to take on the ball with his right (he’s a natural southpaw) and place the ball perfectly for his right (again). A dry, low shot was too much for the Wales shot stopper.

Koopmeiners’ first Oranje goal. Assist Schouten.

Despite being up, Holland still played sloppy and was not that good in retaining possession. For this reason, LVG brought Frenkie and Bergwijn, two players who can hold the ball well. Schouten came off, with a big high five and Gakpo, disappointing, made way for the Spurs man.

Still, Wales was able to play va banque and pushed hard to create something. Gareth Bale joined in and with some crosses and attempts from distance, Wales got closer to scoring.

In the first minute of the extra time, a cross from the right was defended poorly by Hateboer (again) and the Welsh dragons made it 1-1.

The Dutch decided to not give up and it was a masterful move by Barca man De Jong which resulted in a glorious winning goal. Under pressure, Frenkie chipped the ball out of harms way. Steven Bergwijn read the situation and played Frenkie in, who made a dart across the length of the pitch. Two Wales players tried to hack him down, to no avail and left back Malacia was on hand as left winger for the out ball. He didn’t dilly-dally and crossed the ball towards the penalty spot where a wounded Wout Weghorst warrior headed the ball in the top corner: 1-2.

Late goal for Oranje, Frenkie can’t stop running…

By then, Martins Indi was in the team for a tired De Ligt who got a case of the cramps.

LVG was quite realistic after the game. He praised the team for keeping on fighting. Schouten got the praise he deserved but LVG did make a point about him needing to use his left foot more. When asked about the Oranje team with or without Frenkie de Jong, he quipped: “He is valued at 110 million euros. Not for nothing.”

In my view, Cody Gakpo is a nice prospect for the future. He’s clearly dealing with his transfer. He seems out of sorts and a bit too timid.

Weghorst is useful as a super sub. But Luuk de Jong might be better suited. Luuk is a better header of the ball (sounds odd right after Wout’s winner).

Noa Lang is a type of player you need in the squad. Confidence, ballsy, difficult and unpredictable. His work rate in this game was amazing. He clearly wanted to be important for the team.

Teun Koopmeiners needs to step up in Oranje. Show leadership and accelerate the game more. Playing too safe too often and too much in one pace. We all know how good he can be.

Jerdy Schouten is a stayer. He will make the cut, I think. He’s a quick thinker, he’s aware and tactically smart. Overall good skills.

Hans Hateboer is too lightweight for Oranje I feel. Malacia on the other side was fine. Wasn’t used too well in the first half, but was key in the second half with a role in both goals.

De Ligt is world class. But not on the left. De Vrij was fine, no drama. Jordan Teze is also too lightweight for me, at this stage. I rather see De Vrij there, if Van Dijk is available, than Teze. Good prospect though.

Mark Flekken was a bit insecure. Couldn’t help the goal, but flapped a number of times. I also believe that Wilson free kick, he could have and should have held on to the ball. I don’t like all these keepers stomping the ball away. I think Bijlow will be #1, Cillesen #2 and Flekken #3.

Next up, Poland in Rotterdam. I expect a mix up of the teams.

Cillesen

Dumfries – Timber – De Vrij – Ake – Malacia

Schouten – Frenkie

Memphis

Lang – Berghuis

Something like this….

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Feyenoord Legend “silent” Wim Jansen passes…

Boy, what a sensational team they are developing up there… Van Beveren on goal. Now Van der Kuylen, Cruyff and Rensenbrink up front. Nico Reinders has been there for a while of course. Wim Suurbier as right back and now Wim Jansen joins in to anchor the midfield.

75 years is way too young, but Wim Jansen was struggling with Alzheimers for a while now and he was deteriorating really swiftly.

Wim Jansen is one of those unsung heroes of Dutch football. And that was mainly because he didn’t like being an “ununsung” hero…

But a hero he is. They’ll remember him fondly in Japan, in Glasgow, in Washington DC and in Amsterdam but mainly in Rotterdam (where the fans and the club will hold a memorial for him this coming Saturday in front of De Kuip Stadium).

He started his career like so many kids. But as opposed to most: Wimpie (little Wim) was not your typical rebel rousing streetwise rascal. His parents didn’t enjoy sports. And Wim was a fan of billiards and would always be in time home for supper. His personality was perfect, the ideal son-in-law. Feyenoord doctor Arbarbanel knows it for sure: “He’s a good kid but he will never make it at the top”.

Big Willem of Xerxes versus Little Wim of Feyenoord

When he is 13 years old, he is diagnosed with a knee problem. A “weak knee” is the diagnosis. And he was never to play again. Feyenoord even sent him away. And Wimpie decided to just play on the street, with his mates. Wim lives in the Old North of Rotterdam, where Feyenoord icon Coen Moulijn, the Messi like left winger of Feyenoord, lives. And Wimpie and his mates see their hero drive to the Kuip regularly, all in awe. But a year after Wim’s medical diagnosis, he returns to Feyenoord! He has grown and became stronger and his knee holds it all together well. Wimpie is captain of the C youth team and signs his first semi pro deal at 16 years old. He works the day in the office in the Rotterdam port and in the evening and in the weekend, he makes 30 guilders as a semi pro ( 12 euros). He usually goes to the match with his buddy Jan Boskamp (who would also make it to the NT squad for the 1974 World Cup) and Joop van Daele (who would become world famous for a week or so, as the match winner in the Feyenoord World Cup for teams win).

Wimpie belongs to the Feyenoord inventory, almost. He’s always there and he’s everywhere. When the president is asked in 1966 when a home grown player will make it big, he points at Wim Jansen: “There he is! That lad will be a big player one day”.

And he does make it into the first team, as so-called left inside forward ( in a 3-2-5 system). Coen Moulijn is still with the club and loves playing with Jansen: “I remembered him from the street where I lived. He was a real creative player but that disappeared when he got older. He’s the ultimate team player. A passer of the ball. I loved playing with Jansen more than with Van Hanegem. Wim was the master of one touch and would always launch me. Van Hanegem was harder to predict. And Wim is a nice guy, you know.” And Wim was in awe that he was actually playing the same team as his big idol.

Feyenoord youth team wins title, with Wim Jansen below far right. Next to him Jan Boskamp. Second from left, sitting, Joop van Daele, the later matchwinner of the World Cup match

Jansen would play for Feyenoord 1 for 15 years and he would form the core of the new Feyenoord, with Ove Kindvall from Sweden, Ruud Geels and Rinus Israel. When Willem van Hanegem is signed a year later, the perfect midfield couple is born. Jansen would become the first Feyenoord full pro and would develop what he called “blind communication” with Van Hanegem. The two acted as twins and even bought homes practically next ot each other in my home town of HI Ambacht.

Feyenoord and the players realised that now, the game was about the results. And about winning points so the players would make more. Rinus Israel became Jansen’s mentor. “Could I ask for a better one?” With De Kromme, Jansen developed this telepathic bond. Willem van Hanegem: “He was so good. Wim could play anywhere on the pitch. He couldn’t be a goalie, though… too small. But Wim would always pass the ball with intelligence, with purpose. In today’s game, you’d probably compare him to Paul Scholes, or Jorginho or Kimmel. Smart, effective… always passing and moving.”

In the 60s, Georg Kessler selects him for the Dutch NT where he plays next to Cruyff and Willy van der Kuylen. Kessler: “Wim Jansen should be the role model for today’s youths. Not Cruyff!” The 20 year old midfielder is not too comfortable in the Dutch midfield, as he is surrounded by Ajax players, such as Bennie Muller, Henk Groot, Piet Keizer and Johan Cruyff. When Oranje fails to qualify for the Euros in 1968, Jansen loses his spot. The 1970 World Cup and the 1972 Euros are also missed by the Dutch and Jansen would only play two internationals in those early 70s. The coach – Fadrhonc – usually picks a midfield with Neeskens, Van Hanegem, Gerrie Muhren or Theo de Jong.

Jansen is not happy but will focus his efforts on his club. In 1970 he wins the European Cup and the World Cup and Willem van Hanegem and Wim Jansen (big Wim and Wimpie) conquer the world.

Against his friend Johan, when Barca met Feyenoord

Ernst Happel, the Austrian former star and current Feyenoord coach, becomes his mentor in tactics. Jansen realises that the pass and move game is the key game. “Taking on players and dribbling is nice but it does result in loss of possession. The ball is always faster than the player, so by passing and moving you can outsmart any opponent.” Happel calls Jansen the accelerator in the team. Where Van Hanegem sometimes slows the game down (on purpose) or waits for the perfect timing for a cross, Jansen is a one-touch player who moves the play relentlessly.

Wim Jansen is the King of Playing Simple. As JC once said: football is a simple game, but to play simple is the hardest thing there is. He is also the King of Silence. He loves anonymity, he loathes publicity. Famously, Johan Derksen once traveled the world with him, visiting famous youth academies and Jansen would go on and on about football, share investing and The Beatles (his three passions) but when Johan needed to interview him formally, Jansen would not be able to answer more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A very private man.

When Feyenoord plays their semi finals against AC Milan in 1970, Jansen completely nullifies star player Gianni Rivera and scores a Ziyech type goal. Feyenoord would go on to beat Celtic for the trophy and Jansen’s name is internationally settled. In 1974 he’d win the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord, beating Spurs.

When Oranje travels to the World Cup 1974, coach (supervisor) Rinus Michels is plagued by injuries. When Drost, Israel, Laseroms, Mansveld and Hulshoff all fall away for the CB role, Michels (Cruyff?) picks Arie Haan. And this is the impetus needed for Jansen, as he is picked as the third midfielder, next to Van Hanegem and Neeskens (Gerrie Muhren is also injured). “I am grateful to be part of this and if I can make minutes, it would be awesome.” Well, Wim
Jansen played every minute and was one of the outstanding players – with Van Hanegem, Cruyff, Rensenbrink and Rep – of this magical Oranje team.

In that fatal WC 74 finals…

Through his games with the NT, Jansen struck a deep friendship with Cruyff. The late master of the game said repeatedly in interviews that Jansen was the only player he knew that shared his football insights and ideas about football tactics. Even Willem van Hanegem famously said that when JC and Wimpie start debating football, he’d go to the bar for another glass of wine, as it became hocus pocus for him!

Four years later, Jansen is also part of the squad managed by Ernst Happel winning silver again (losing gold…?) in Argentina.

Back in Holland, Feyenoord’s management is making (financial) mistake after mistake and the one richest club on the planet (!) is fading. When Jansen gets into conflict with the board and coach Jezek, Jansen decides to move away.

When his buddy Cruyff moves to Washington Diplomats, Wim Jansen decides to follow him.

The news drops like a bomb. “Shocking Farewell” is the headline of the AD newspaper. “I am maybe a bit quiet, but I have an opinion and I’m headstrong. I can’t stand for what happened. I am gone and I don’t think I’ll ever come back here.” When asked about the media mayhem that ensued, he said: “Don’t worry, in 2 weeks time, I’ll be forgotten.”

He wouldn’t last more than one season. “Life in America is wonderful, but the football here…they simply don’t get it.”

Juan Lozano, Johan Cruyff, Wim Jansen

So now what? Well, Johan Cruyff has the answer. He is now technical coordinator at Ajax and he advises the club to sign Jansen. Ajax has a number of great young talents – as per usual – but defensively, it’s like Swiss Cheese. Ajax is 8th in the table with a tremendous number of goals conceded.

Jansen made his debut for Ajax in December 1980. In De Kuip. Against Feyenoord. And the most famous ice-ball ever takes the headlines as an angry Feyenoord supporter throws the iceball towards the players when they start their warming up. The ice-ball hits Jansen in the eye and damages his cornea. He would try to play, for 15 minutes but was subbed when he wasn’t able to see what was happening too well. To put insult to injury, his future son-in-law Stanley Brard decided to take him out with a fierce tackle as well and that was it. Wimpie went from Mr Feyenoord to “dog-dick” (hondelul) in a heartbeat.

Jansen here right after being hit by the ice-ball

But Jansen is no push over. He would stay another season and mentor youngsters like Frank Rijkaard, Vanenburg, Kieft and Olsen. In that second season, the maestro himself puts his boots on again too and with Soren Lerby in midfield, Cruyff as false 9 and Jansen managing it from the back with Rijkaard, Ajax and Wim Jansen won the title.

Wimpie tried it for 15 minutes in his debut vs Feyenoord

He starts to think about life after his active career and he starts to collect information. Intelligence. He’s basically a collector. He collects shares, stamps and now he started collecting information about training practices, about nutrition, the working of the mind, and more. His database and archives become famous and more and more coaches and reporters find the way to his home to dive in Jansen’s footballing brain. When Feyenoord contacts him to come and coach the youth, the love for his club is re-kindled and Jansen would start a whole new phase in his career.

More in part 2…

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Danjuma: Van Gaal’s missing winger?

This last week, coach Ronald Koeman was in the news, as Barca Chair “finally” sacked the Dutch club legend (and in his wake: Alfred Schreuder and Henke Larsson). Also in the news, 75 year old Wim Jansen – suffering from dementia – published his biography, ans with that, some exciting stories were re-hashed in the media. Do let me know if you want me to write some stories on either topic.

For now, I wanted to focus on that other winger that impressed. I covered Noa Lang in a post, now it’s time for Arnaut Danjuma.

The 24 year old Nigerian born Dutch international – Dutch father, Nigerian mother – started his career at Top Oss but moved swiftly to PSV where he played for PSV 2 before making his move to NEC Nijmegen, where he expected a swifter break through. He managed 40 games for NEC in which he scored 12 goals and got the first attention. PSV and Feyenoord were keen to sign him but Club Brugge in Belgium was the quickest of them. He made his first Oranje appearance under Koeman in October 2018 but lost his spot when he got injured.

He went to play for EPL outfit Bournemouth in 2019 but injuries kept him sidelined more than not and Danjuma got relegated with the club in 2020. He ended up performing really well for the Cherries and scored a total of 15 goals in 47 games for them until Emry swooped him up for Villareal for close to €25K.

It does not take long, in the company of Arnaut Danjuma, to realise how highly he regards his potential. “If I need to be completely honest, and this is me being completely honest, I never thought I would play Championship in my career,” the Bournemouth forward says, “I’m used to the Champions League, not the Championship.”

Danjuma – nickname The Cobra – talks like he plays: a winger with wonderful talent and ability complemented by extreme self-confidence which sees him attempt, and often execute, the audacious.

Danjuma – who had an unthinkable tough childhood – spoke of a desire to return to Europe’s elite competition and prove he is among the world’s best players. His two appearances in the Champions League came for Belgium’s Club Brugge in the 2018 group stage, both ending in defeat to Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid, whom he scored against. With Villareal, he was able to prove his mettle once again, particularly in the away match vs Man United.

Danjuma uses his past to help him perform. “When I go into a game I always get my mentality back to where I started because I don’t want to get used to being satisfied,” he says.

The story begins in Lagos, Nigeria, where he was born but Danjuma doesn’t remember much apart from his grandma’s house and regularly being late for dinner due to playing football in the streets. The true beginning came in 2001, at the age of four, when Danjuma’s parents, mum Hauwa and dad Cees, divorced in the same year they moved to Oss, in the south of Holland.

Danjuma doesn’t remember why but they ended up homeless for two weeks around a year after arriving in Europe. Along with his brother Reinier and sister Lisette, the then five-year-old and his mum would often end up sleeping in their car.

“I was a bit older, around five or six,” Danjuma says. “There was a brief period when we had no place to live, which obviously was very tough and, on the back of it, might sound weird but I’m grateful I went through it.

“For my mum, it was very difficult but she’s a very strong lady. I’ve never met anyone as strong as her, especially if you come from a different country like Nigeria to the Netherlands, don’t speak the language and are foreign. It is difficult, it’s tough. She had three children to take care of.

“It was a very difficult period for her but I always respect the way she dealt with it and she always provided for me and the whole family where she could. It really inspires me, having a mother like her, because it showed me the world is tough out there and if you want to survive you should always fight back, always take courage in changing your own destiny.”

Circumstances saw Danjuma and his siblings put into foster care. He doesn’t recall why but remembers clearly the difficulty it brought, comparing the period to time spent living on the streets. His foster family wouldn’t take him to play football, the sport he had grown to love since the age of four.

“It was tough because you’re not with your parents and you see all other kids living with their parents. It was difficult for me because the only thing I wanted to do was play football,” Danjuma says. “They weren’t willing to bring me to training so I got really annoyed by that. But my father luckily came all the way to the foster family, picked me up and took me to football, and then brought me back to them and went back to his place. I was lucky that my father still took charge of everything because otherwise it would have been very difficult for me.”

Cees remains an influential figure. They speak before every game and Danjuma describes his father as a “football fanatic”. “I’m not even exaggerating,” he says. “If he feels I have performed bad or the club is losing, he won’t sleep.”

Danjuma joined Top Oss, his first professional club, aged 11 in 2008, the same year a court ruled he could leave foster care and live with his father. Within weeks, he had joined PSV Eindhoven where he remained until 2016.

Through the years in the academy, he saw the benefits of his unthinkable upbringing by observing others. “There are a lot of players who have a lot of luxuries at a young age and it kills them,” he says. “I’ve seen so many talented players that didn’t make it in the end because of luxury. I’ve seen it with my own eyes because I went through it in the same period and didn’t have the same luxury as them, but in the end I scored my goal in the Champions League and they didn’t.”

His debut in Europe’s elite competition came elsewhere in the end. “At the time, my dream was to play first team and make my debut there but it fell apart because I got a bit impatient and didn’t think I got the respect I deserved at the club and tried my luck elsewhere,” Danjuma says.

He spent two years with NEC Nijmegen and then moved to Club Brugge in 2018 which was when Milan made a move. “Six months earlier I played in Holland so when AC Milan came through with an offer and bid I told the club straight away I want to move, I want to go to AC Milan which is a massive club, massive history, and at the time a very good step for me,” Danjuma recalls.

Danjuma’s personal ambitions mean he is determined to take Villareal back to the top in Spain, particularly with the Madrid clubs and Barca stumbling a bit. But he also has his eye on the international arena.

He made his come back in orange after three years. “I am so happy that I’m back and I knew for 100% certain that I would make it. I may have been off the radar a bit with Bournemouth so I decided to move up a notch.” Asked if he was happy to perform on the right wing for The Netherlands, as opposed to the left: “My preference is the left, I won’t lie, but if the coach want me to play on the right, I will. When Van Gaal tells me to be the goalie, I will be the goalie. But left winger has my preference.”

By now, we are all getting accustomed to the intelligence and wit of the winger. He was already known to be a walking football encyclopedia. He follows everything and even has his own data-service, which he devours week by week to learn, to develop and set new goals. He also has quick and dry wit. Asked if he new about Van Gaal lamenting that there weren’t many good wingers, he responded: “Was he lamenting? Well so was I. I was lamenting that I wasn’t called up.”

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Stars aligning for Oranje?

For many days, the overall view was that poor Oranje was having to slug it out with Portugal or even Germany in the first knock-out game. But it seems the football gods are with us… Even better, our march to the finals will actually be not that dreadful, considering Belgium, France and Italy – generally seen as the three favorites – are in the other leg of the draw.

It remains to be seen whether this is a good thing though. Traditionally, Oranje does well vs stronger teams. Remember the group of death(s) in 2006 and 2008? We obliterated the competition (well…) and got in trouble the next knock-out stage. Oranje now also play well versus teams that consider themselves stronger. Once an opponent parks the bus, we will find it tougher to break them down.

But, the stars in the sky might have aligned, it also seems the stars on the pitch have. The vibe in the squad is very good, players who tend to be a bit narcy when they are not the dominant player appear to remain calm ( Berghuis, Koopmeiners) and Frank de Boer is demonstrating day in day out in his interviews and press conferences that he grew as a coach. He’s likeable, he jokes, he laughs and analyses with clarity.

Malen and Memphis have produced some nice interaction. Add the quality, movement and silky touch of Wijnaldum and there is our holy trinity. Frenkie and Gini have a good understanding, as do Stefan de Vrij and Mathijs de Ligt. These two actually became firm friends in Italy and spend a lot of time, with the families together.

The PSV contingent (Malen, Dumfries, Gakpo, Memphis) work well together, as do the AZ and Ajax team mates. Berghuis might well feel at home with the Ajax lads…

I am loath to be too positive and chirpy, but I can see that with the right focus and the right line up / system, Oranje can indeed power forward.

it was quite eventful for Oranje, this past week. The group win was great, Memphis’ signature under a Barca contract clearly gave the mercurial forward a boost, but the loss of Luuk de Jong, who had to exit the camp with a nasty knee injury, means Plan B doesn’t exist anymore. And it also automatically means that Wout Weghorst will be relegated to the pinch hitter role.

Another player we will need firing on all cylinders is Frenkie of course. The player with the most successful dribbles in the Euros until now.

Playmaker, play accelerator, conductor, dreh-und-angelpunkt, we have had so many names already for the midfielder. His passing is usually mentioned as his key strength and this is indeed a highly important aspect of the game. But another aspect might need a bit more spotlight: the dribble. No one dribbles more and better than the Arkel born lad.

Goal.com asked Antoine Griezmann in 2019 which player was the toughest opponent for him and he immediately said: “Ajax’ De Jong! I tried to put him under pressure in the Nations League games with France and it was impossible, I never succeeded. He’s so slick, he just slips past you as if you’re not there.” Not much later, they became team mates.

Four players had 17 dribbles in this Euros, so far. Our Frenkie, Denmark’s Maehle, Switzerland’s Embolo and France’ Mbappe. Frenkie had 13 successful ones, compared to 8 by the others.

This is here is key moment. Holland is under pressure from Austria. Weghorst passes to Wijnaldum, who gets two opponents on his toes. Gini dribbles quickly to the side line, knowing that loss of possession is less dangerous there. De Jong gives him an option, on the side line and he has four Austrians putting pressure on. Sabitzer in front of him, Laimer and Hinteregger are lurking close while Schlager joins in as well. Most player would pass the ball backwards to Dumfries or De Vrij. But that would not solve the problem. We would still be locked in and under pressure. This is a typical ideal pressure moment for Austria.

Frenkie oozes confidence on the ball. He doesn’t panic and the four Austrians are hesitating. De Jong sees the hesitation and decides to use it. He sprints through the pressure with the ball in close control and it fits like a glove. Not only does he alleviate  the pressure, he turns defence into attack as he turns the situation in a 6 v 4 situation, what with Daley Blind and Pat van Aanholt immediately breaking out too, joining Frenkie, Weghorst, Memphis and Wijnaldum in attack. This move ends with a failed pass from Van Aanholt to Weghorst.

Another typical moment, also demonstrating the partnership in midfield. Holding mid Marten de Roon has the ball and almost stands still. Wijnaldum drops back and offers an option, leaving a gap in front of the Austrian defence. De Roon points to it, even, and Frenkie runs into that space and receives the ball.

He looks over his shoulder and sees that Laimer is too slow to react, so now Frenkie knows he can turn the player and get into a 1 v 1 situation on the edge of the box. He passes to Memphis whose shot is blocked. Another example where the obvious option would have been to pass the ball back.

The third example is in the North Macedonia match. Obviously, the pressure was off and Oranje was further helped by the offensive tactics of North Macedonia. Their pressure play resulted in space for us. Here is an example.

De Ligt has the ball and is pressured by Elmas. The ball goes to Daley Blind and Pandev is putting pressure on him. De Jong offers Blind an option, and while the ball is traveling, he looks over his shoulder, twice. Once right, once left. Before he has the ball, he knows the Macedonian defence is not pushing forward. He turns, he accelerates and he releases Van Aanholt. Wijnaldum could have done better from that Van Aanholt cross.

This type of play by De Jong makes it hard for opponents to press. A hesitation or a slow reaction and he is off and away. De Jong’s dribbles are as lethal as his passing. He can create something out of nothing. He doesn’t have a lot of assists or goals to his name. His forte is the pre-assist. His accelerations offer space and time to his team mates.

De Jong’s qualities are hard to express in statistics, although Opta Sports was able to somewhat approach it with their carries-stat. This demonstrates the ability to see a gap and the skills to carry the ball forward into that gap. The number of meters you carry the ball with your feet, basically. It’s not a surprise that the wingbacks score hight in this category as they usually have the flank at their disposal, where it is less busy. Carrying the ball forward through the spine is tough. There simply isn’t much space. De Jong is a maestro. He showed it at Ajax, now at Barca and at Oranje. Only Mateo Kovacic and the Spanish Barca colleague Pedri are able to show similar stats. But they tend to carry the ball backwards a lot too.

When Opta filters the stats in terms of carries forward, than Frenkie is the only midfielder amongst defenders.

The most important thing is, that Frenkie is completely convinced of his own playing style.

His response to a comment after the Real Madrid away game in 2019 says it all. Ajax won 1-4 but Frenkie had a difficult moment vs Benzema, when he tried to take on the French striker just outside his own box and lost the ball to the predator. This resulted in a big chance for Madrid.

Sports commentator Van Gelder: “I have a strong heart, but can you please never do that again?”

Frenkie: “No, I disagree. I think I need to do this again, but do it better. I made a good turn, but when I wanted to accelerate I got cramp in my legs and had to try and keep the ball…”

I think I need to do this again but better…. That is his mindset and that is why he can be of great value in the knock-out games. This mix of uninhibitedness and precision is exactly what we need. This puts the fear into our opponents, the knowledge that one little mistake can mean Oranje is thundering forward. De Jong’s dribbles give Oranje time and space, it also gives us a signature style of play.

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Spectacular start Oranje after 13 years…

It took 13 years for Oranje to win at a Euros again! After 45 minutes, my title for this post was “Everything but the goals” but after 90 minutes, we saw 5 of them. And all beauties too!

With the news that Eriksen will be ok (as a person, maybe not as a football player), things couldn’t be better.

Next time, I would be fine with Oranje just keeping a lock on the backdoor and not allowing the opponent a way back into the game. Because we did end up sitting fairly uncomfortable on the edge of our seat, with Ukraine getting back to 2-2!

But Man of the Match Denzel Dumfries ( a title he’ll have to share with Frenkie and Stefan de Vrij for me) had other ideas. The former Sparta man had never scored for Oranje and decided to start doing it now.

Fun to read all the negative comments now, after this match. I believe Dumfries and De Roon were the biggest targets of the criticasting vinegar pissers :-). I will withhold from being to celebratory about it…

But the facts are the facts.

Frank de Boer realised that Wijndal is not comfortable in the 5-3-2, while Van Aanholt is. He made the switch. Like we hoped he would. He played Daley Blind for 60 minutes, because the Ajax man is not 100% match fit, but we want him to be. After his 3 months angle ligament injury, he needs to be brought back to 100% and this match will have done wonders. Although, he almost didn’t play at all.

Blind: “Christian is a close friend. His family and mine are always in touch. And when I saw what happened, I was almost in shock, plus my own experiences with my heart issues came back too. I couldn’t sleep and felt really down. I almost decided to let this match go… But I’m happy I did play. All the emotions did come out when I was subbed off, and probably also the tension in my body from trying desperately to get fit in time. This match meant a lot.”

Both he and Van Aanholt would get 60 minutes, as both players are still not 100%.

Otherwise, Frank went with his trusted eleven and the performance proved him right.

I personally think Marten de Roon played a super first half. I’m not his biggest fan, but it was clear what his role is in that first 45. He mopped up many a ball in midfield and kept pressure on the Ukraine, with his tough physical challenges. He is also used to cover as RB for when Dumfries is up and away. I think De Roon was fine!

Dumfries definitely showed he made some progress. His first half was a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, he made use of the space in front of him and was a constant threat, but his finishing in the first half should have been better. As the whole team was a bit toothless in that first half. We should have been 3-0 up at half time. Denzel could have had 2, Wijnaldum could have scored and even Van Aanholt was face to face with the goalie suddenly.

Normally, not taking your chances can result in an upset, but Oranje added a gear in the second half and they really grabbed Ukraine by the neck and suffocated them. The two goals were justified, with a good role for Dumfries, but allowing Ukraine back into it was weak and unnecessary. The subbing of Blind and Van Aanholt was probably part of the cause although Yarmolenko’s shot on goal was really top drawer. No goalie would have stopped that ball. The second goal was a waste. The pressure on Zinchenko wasn’t there, resulting in a De Vrij foul and free kick. And our defending was bad. Weghorst was marking the wrong side and I think De Vrij or any other player should have been attacking that ball earlier.

Still, Oranje fought back and a perfect Ake cross resulted in that Dumfries header. You see, he does know how to head a ball.

I think the performance was quite good overall. Frank de Boer is correct in his comments post-match: “I think the players do understand this 5-3-2 after all” and he is right. They looked good. And sure Ukraine is not Spain or France, but still. It’s a good step forward.

As per usual, Wijnaldum, Memphis and Frenkie de Jong were playing at their usual level. Wijnaldum leading by example. Frenkie relentlessly looking for openings and Memphis a constant threat. He didn’t score or assist today, so that might be poor, considering his usual output, but he played a good game.

Weghorst still has massive debates with the ball at times. His passing, his flicks, his touches, it’s not top level and never will be. But he compensates a lot with his mentality, work ethics and physicality.

I personally think De Vrij played sensational as well, while Timber played as if he has 20 caps to his name. He had some moments in the game where he could have taken a bit more risk, dribbling into midfield, but that will surely come. The future is bright.

I do believe things will only improve from here. This was a massive confidence booster (and three points of course) as the usual vinegar pissing had started already amongst Dutch analysts and “experts”. This win will settle the team. It will further strengthen De Boer’s belief in the system and players like De Roon, Dumfries, Timber and Weghorst will take a lot away from this game.

Daley Blind had another hour of football under his belt and will be back to total fitness when/if we get to the knock-out stages.

Winning your first match is key!

I think Frank will not change much vs Austria, on Thursday, if everyone is fit. He might pick Wijndal instead of Van Aanholt (depends on who plays right wing for Austria I guess) but he won’t change too much, I don’t think. A draw vs Austria and a win over North Macedonia will probably get us top of the group…

 

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Italy outsmarts weak Oranje

Well, it seems that after a good series of games and increasing positive vibes around the team, our lads manage to help us level our expectations and get us back with our feet firmly on the ground.

It was at times a shocker. A really sobering experience.

It was well known beforehand that 1) Italy would freshen up the team and 2) they’d come with a mission, as they dropped two points at home. A response was to be expected.

Lodeweges set up the team almost exactly like Italy (as I said before: both teams try to play a similar style of football with a similar type of tactical plan), but instead of putting fresh legs in, he decided to use the team that had a confidence boost vs Poland. He also figured that Hateboer and De Roon would find something extra vs the players they see every week.

Bergwijn, who struggled after an hour vs Poland, was rested and Wijnaldum played as a false right winger, in what was probably a 4-3-2-1. Promes and Gini close behind Memphis, with a block in midfield ( De Jong, Van de Beek, De Roon).

Italy executed the plan to perfection and coach Mancini’s only real issue was the lack of more goals.

Oranje received a football lesson from the Azzurri and will need to get its act together really fast, as the matches will come thick and fast.

The issues.

I think for starters, Lodeweges made the mistake of using 10 of the starting 11 against Poland. Two big matches in 3 days with players who are not 100% match fit… Why? Dumfries was fit. Wijnaldum can play for De Roon, and give Frenkie some protection and help as holding mid (Davy Propper was injured and not part of the squad). Bergwijn could have done another 45 minutes and Ihatarren could have easily had his debut. He’s young, fresh, eager and has that surprise factor.

Anyway, that was just one issue. Italy is also not 100% match fit but still I think the risk of injured players was relatively high and it was visible that some players (Memphis!) were struggling at times.

Secondly, the team played to expansive. The spaces between the players was too big. Putting pressure and chasing the opponent is harder this way and costs even more energy. And once you do have the ball, there are less options to find a team mate. We lost the ball constantly, after 2 or 3 touches.

Example 1: Marten de Roon pushed up while right winger Wijnaldum has no direct opponent and seems lost in space. Big hole behind De Roon, for Hateboer and Veltman to deal with…

Thirdly, the right flank was in disarray. It’s easy to criticize Hateboer. And I personally also think he is not good enough for the NT. I do believe Dumfries, or Karsdorp, or Tete or even Janmaat (when fit) are better options. Yes, he has great lungs and keeps on going, but his crosses are mediocre, his touch lets him down and his decision making isn’t great. Having said that, him being the weakest link, he wasn’t helped that well by his team mates. De Roon and Wijnaldum should have made sure he was never playing against two opponents. Wijnaldum in particular was highly disappointing. But Joel Veltman also didn’t play like De Ligt or De Vrij would. He’s too much on the back foot, tracking back and never really pushing forward.

So Hateboer became the weak link, but this was partly the fault of the team (incl Lodeweges!).

And again. Van de Beek and wijnaldum both cover one Italian, while Frenkie is pressing high up, with gaps behind him. 

Some players (Memphis!) want to overcompensate the fact we’re not playing well by making it all even more complicated. Half volleys on goal from 35 meters out, bicycle kicks and more. In these situations, one needs to play simple.

And then this… A gap between defense and midfield. Frenkie pushing up, Van de Beek and Wijnaldum lost. The Italians can find a free man all the time.

Italy could have had 4 goals, in all honesty. Their finishing wasn’t up to speed (they also are not fully fit) and Holland really had very little to show for itself in the final third. A shot by Wijnaldum in the first half. An attempt by Van de Beek in the second half. Some weaker attempts by Memphis and Promes. Luuk de Jong came to play for Ake (cramp) in the final minutes of the game and had one decent heading opportunity, but overall it was piss poor.

This happened all the time. Huge space on the right. Look at the pairings. Wijnaldum or De Roon should be covering.

Frenkie de Jong did what he could, Memphis tried a lot, Van Dijk kept his head up and kept on commanding the troops, but it was just not good enough. We looked leggy, we kept the pitch to wide, we didn’t help each other out… we never deserved anything from this game.

This is the goal. Four Dutch against three Italians. Ake is marking his man. Van Dijk should have control. But it will go horribly wrong.

So now what?

Well, in terms of standing in this group: we still have control. We need to win games, and the away game vs Italy is a game we probably have to win, but I think we can. There is nothing lost yet. And make no mistake, it is going to be worth our while to perform well in this Nations League as it could help us get a ticket for the World Cup.

In terms of playing style and players: I think we need to keep on going on this road, but we need to learn from this match and learn fast! We need to stay more compact, have less space between the midfielders and the different lines. We also need players to stand up, and read the game and take charge. Lastly, I think it is safe to say we do need Propper, De Ligt, Blind, De Vrij, Malen, Stengs, Danjuma, Karsdorp, and maybe even Berghuis.

In terms of coach: I think this will probably urge the KNVB to sign a big name heavy duty coach. Lodeweges is probably a great assistant. But doesn’t seem to have the fire in his belly and the confidence to take charge because it didn’t take me more than 10 minutes to see what the problem was.

I also believe another – more experienced – head coach wouldn’t have started the same eleven (well…ten). Louis van Gaal or Henk Ten Cate. One of those two seems needed to guide and lead this still young team. My preference is Ten Cate (it was the same three years ago, when Hans van Breukelen fukced up so gloriously).

My ratings (I got some flak for the generous ratings for the Poland game, but I took into account the fact it was the first match and we ended up winning, so….).

Cillesen – 7 – was there when he needed to be, his passing was ok, not great, and I don’t think he was at fault for the Italy goal

Ake – 6 – couldn’t bring a lot moving forward, looked leggy

Van Dijk – 5 – Not sure where he was when that cross came in.

Veltman – 4 – Very sloppy, gave balls away needlessly, wayward passing and letting Hateboer drown at times

Hateboer – 5 – Got himself in trouble, had one major howler, but fixed it again, worked hard but was left in the lurge

Frenkie – 6- worked hard, tried hard, but struggled

Marten de Roon – 4 – didn’t protect his Atalanta team mate Hateboer

Donny van de Beek – 3 – almost invisible, kept the field to long, tactical positioning was weak, had 1 good chance

Gini Wijnaldum – 3 – Wasted as right winger, hardly any threat, lost in space between players and leaving Hateboer to drown

Memphis – 3- Tried hard, seemed to be very motivated but lots of wrong decisions and not enough team play

Quincy Promes – 3 – Almost invisible, sloppy in possession, weak in his positioning

Steven Bergwijn – 4 – Could affect the game, had a through ball for Frenkie but overcooked it

Luuk de Jong – 6 – Did what Luuk de Jong does

Dwight Lodeweges – 5 – he probably had a good plan but the execution sucked and he wasn’t able to change it around. Was late with subs and should have started fresher legs

I can’t play the high lights of this game. So lets look at a game that got us all cheering!

 

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Lessons learned for the Italy game

Well, we learned Italy coach Roberto Mancini needs his glasses, before he puts Donnarumma in the striker role or something. Italy underestimated Bosnia & Herzegovina and dropped two points. Or won 1 point even.

Oranje, on the other hand, snatched the leader position, even after a long spell of no play, an empty stadium, three starting defenders injured or otherwise disposed and a new coach.

Some conclusions.

Playing in an empty stadium sucks. The Dutch starters asked their substitutes and training staff to cheer the lads on. They were so used to the passionate and loyal Oranje fans that they hoped to get some form of substitution via there peers. Lodeweges: “The players really valued it and they thought it was great. It really helped. At a certain point, Hateboer was running past and he must have felt like he was Leo Messi, that was how much we cheered him on, hahaha.”

I will never get used to it. Only a limited number of press and some officials were allowed in. Not even the family of the players. There was a questionnaire, a temperature gauge, masks. There were checks of bags and personal items and the majority of seats were blocked by an alarming red banner.

In this atmosphere, the players need to find the motivation somewhere. This is not a big issue for this generation of players. We had a very gloomy couple of years with Oranje and the players are very focused on making history. Steven Bergwijn: “It is not easy without the fans. But you do have to remember that millions are watching infront of the telly, and it’s them who we want to give joy and make proud.”

Virgil van Dijk sounds like the boss. The advantage of playing in an empty stadium, is that one can hear everything that is said (or yelled more). It was interesting to see/hear how Virgil grew into that leadership role. His charisma is known. But in the Poland match, he was very audible with his coaching. Him and Jasper Cillisen are constantly coaching. But Van Dijk stands out with his bassoon voice and he guides the team through the match. He is the one deciding when to apply pressure, and when pacing is more important. He will give the start sign for the press (Yeah Yeah!!), he points the way in possession (Forward!!) and coaches players who are played in (Turn! or Time!) and he gives compliments when something worked out (That is it!!).

Players taking charge is wonderful for a coach. Lodeweges: “I lost my voice already, and I am not even Antonio Conte! I tried to analyse, observe, think. And I usually sit quiet on the bench. Having a player or players doing this is vital.” Steven Bergwijn: “This is Virgil! I don’t know better. He is the man, our leader. And he has that voice, hahahaha.”

Lodeweges follows the Koeman doctrine. Not a lot changed, with Koeman leaving. The former Oranje captain organised the whole new Oranje protocol and Lodeweges has zero reasons to change this. Lodeweges impact as a coach was already huge. “Ronald was not a dominant leader. He delegated a lot. He would let me analyse opponents or prep training sessions and two weeks before the game, he’d ask me: so, what is your plan? And we would tell him what we believed we should do. He would listen and would decide which parts he agreed with, and which parts he didn’t. And he was always right, you know. 95% of the time, he knew exactly what would happen.”

The players’ council is very content with this way of working, and they (Babel, Van Dijk, Strootman, Blind, De Ligt) have informed the KNVB that they want to keep on traveling on this road.

If there is one thing that Lodeweges wants to streamline, is the press. “I think there is room for better choices to be made, by the players. I noticed that pressure sometimes gets translated to “running, hassling, sweating and panting. Putting forward pressure on was such hard work. So much energy used up. I think we need more control, we need to position ourselves better and be more selective in the moments to put pressure on. There are better chances to repossess the ball and it will cost less energy. We are working on that. Against Poland, that went well. Considering the circumstances, I do believe we actually played really well.”

Lodeweges is known to be a serious and passionate coach, but also very down to Earth. He likes to use language to put things in perspective. Asked about his new role, he calls it “a fun job”, when asked about the group, he says “it’s a hungry bunch of players”. He described debutant Owen Wijndal as “a good little lad, with a nice left foot”. And after the 1-0 win over Poland, he ended his presser with “we had a pretty decent evening, all in all….”

Some automatisms between players never fade. Memphis was scanning his options, ball at his feet. His peripheral vision was looking for runners and he was on the prowl for Frenkie. Vice versa, Frenkie knew an opportunity was coming if he timed his run right. Memphis eyes see, Memphis minds races, and Memphis feet execute. Their dance was unrehearsed but perfect. The run was made, Memphis chipped the ball his way, Frenkie controlled on the chest, turned and half-volleyed. That one deserved a goal. The dynamics between Memphis and Frenkie hasn’t suffered from 9 months no game. Their connection was clear from the first minutes they played together. Frenkie is always looking deep, for his passing, Memphis is always looking to get the ball. They have this telepathic understanding, like Jonk and Bergkamp, or Sneijder and Robben. Frenkie, Memphis and leader Virgil ended up being the best players on the night.

Lodeweges used 4 practices to show the players what he wanted, in terms of variance. “You don’t always have to play intricate and short passing. You can play long, you have to vary your approach. I like to see quick, deep balls over the defence.” The players enjoyed the intense training sessions, as both Bergwijn and Wijnaldum commented how hard it is to not play together for 9 months, and then suddenly needed to be a team again.

Lodeweges declared every one in the squad fit and ready to play Italy. Daddy Dumfries also returned to the squad.

It is not easy to look into the head of the coach, but I think he won’t change much for the Italy game. I think he’ll keep Hateboer in the side, as he knows his opponents well and has that tandem with De Roon happening. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Babel start on the left and maybe Van de Beek instead of Wijnaldum.

I was asked for player ratings, for the Poland game. Here they are :-).

Cillesen – 7 – he was there when he needed him and he had some good long balls too.

Hateboer – 8 – he wasn’t too successful in the first half, but his second half was fine, and the assist gave him an extra point

Veltman – 7 – played an invisible game, which is good for a centre back. Solid on the ball.

Van Dijk – 8 – Virgil is always focused, always leading. Good interceptions and overall leadership.

Ake – 7 – Played well, understands his role, great on the ball and an aerial threat too.

Frenkie – 7 – Played a tough first half, came into the role in second half. Created the goal but has way more in him.

De Roon – 7 – played faultless, was there to take Hateboer’s position, was dogged and good on the ball too.

Wijnaldum -6 – A bit invisible. Doing his work, making runs, and being a threat by his shere presence, but not effective.

Promes – 6 – Missing rhythm, his crosses didn’t connect, his dribbles were a bit off, but he played his role and had this one chance on a goal in the first half

Bergwijn 8- Played well, drifting into space, coming centrally to wreak havoc and worked hard. Scored his first goal, giving him an extra point.

Memphis – 8 – Still not in 100% shape/form but working his ass off, trying to dazzle, to entertain, to find openings. Everything he does is focused on creating something. Any opponent will use 2 players to stop him.

Van de Beek – 7 – showed glimpses of his qualities.

Luuk de Jong – not enough time on the pitch for a rating

Lodeweges – 8 – I can’t fault him for anything

I think Italy will be another scalp for us.

They are also not in 100% shape of course, but they will have to try and take something from the game.

Italy plays a bit like Holland does, and the game will be more open. Confidence is high in Oranje, which might be our biggest threat, actually. I think 3-1 for Holland. Own goal by Van Dijk. Memphis, Promes and Van de Beek on the score sheet for us.

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