Amidst all the shenanigans at federation level, Danny Blind is keeping his focus on the games ahead. He shrugs off the problems with management, the influence of new Tech Director Van Breukelen and shows confidence for the matches vs Belarus and France.
Danny Blind is not to be envied. Key players missing, overall quality below par, lack of support of his management. But he still finds time to joke. At the press conference last week, Hans van Breukelen was missing due to a wedding party. Blind: “I told Hans he should go nice and early to be ahead of traffic.” Which invoked laughs from the media present.
Asked if he felt the pressure: “I know there is pressure. Just like with any other game. We need wins. Whether I’m working for Oranje, or coaching Ajax 2. Also as a player, we wanted to win every game. That pressure is normal for me. I don’t feel the pressure of needing to win to keep my job. That is counter-productive pressure and I’m fortunate not to have that stress. I don’t do anything for this, it’s just how I am.”
One of the key talking points is Arjen Robben’s fitness. “We all want a fit Robben to play for us. But you have to be realistic and we also have a responsibility towards Arjen. I need him for the full qualification series and for the World Cup. I don’t want to take risks, and neither does his club.”
With all the attention going to the missing Robben, the return of Stefan de Vrij is almost overlooked. It was basically one year ago almost to the day that De Vrij stayed behind in the break with a knee issue.
The Lazio defender is impressing again in the Serie A and is keen to get minutes in his former home, De Kuip. “I am so happy to be back. I so missed this. My first focus was getting fit for Lazio and now I can play without pain, I’m top fit and keen as. Playing for Oranje is amazing and to be able to play on my favorite pitch in my home stadium gives me the goosebumps just thinking about it.”
And here is probably the best news football fans in Holland can get, apart from Robben being 100% fit and ready. Oranje is back in De Kuip. In 2012, KNVB general manager criticised the Feyenoord home as being outdated and obsolete. He copped a lot of criticism from the fans, as De Kuip used to be the home of Oranje for decades. The more sterile and theatre like Arena in Amsterdam was chosen as it has more VIP rooms and restaurants for the sponsors. But De Kuip is a true football temple and one of the most intimidating stadiums of Europe. The fans are close to the pitch, the pitch is arguably the best in Europe – 100% grass, no synthetics – and somehow, De Kuip is always full when Oranje plays (in contrast with half empty Arena and Phillips Stadium experiences).
Youri Mulder: “I scored the winner vs Belarus in the 90s in De Kuip and it is indescribable what happens when you score in De Kuip. It’s like you’re in a cyclone. The energy, the noise, the whole experience. I can only describing it to making love to the girl you have been in love with for years and she never really noticed you. Until suddenly, she does and you meet and fall in love and…magic happens…”
Former Feyenoord striker Peter Houtman: “You enter the stadium from the tunnel and the energy grabs you by the throat. Immediately. Players can’t hear each other. Coaches can’t reach their players. It’s loud and all encompassing. Even now, coming into the stadium, without playing yourself, it’s massive.”
It’s fitting that De Kuip is the new home of Oranje. Feyenoord is the leader in the Eredivisie and was victorious versus Man United in the EL. Rick Karsdorp was part of the Oranje squad twice before, but hasn’t broken his duck yet. “It’s great that we are doing so well with Feyenoord. We are in good shape and the team manager will take notice of that. My career is going from strength to strength. I’m grateful to Fred Rutten for this. He recognised a right back in me, whereas I played playmaker in the youth. But the game has changed and they demand a lot from full backs these days. Build up, speed, tactical awareness and assists.” Karsdorp believes team spirit is the secret for Feyenoord and hopes this can channel into Oranje. “We are like family at Feyenoord. We enjoy playing together and are tight. This is how new players like goalie Brad Jones and striker Jorgensen can adapt so easily. It is not the sum of the individuals, it’s more than that. I hope to get that feeling with Oranje as well.”
Despite the fuzzy warm feelings Karsdorp and co are hoping for, Blind approaches the games very business like. The coach: “Belarus is a tough opponent, yes. Most players are in the Russian league and it’s a tough league to play in. But, we play at home and we have players playing in the EPL, the Serie A, the Bundesliga, Turkey and Portuguese league. I demand a win and I think I am allowed to. The players need to cope with that pressure, because they can. Belarus is a tightly organised, defensive thinking team. They won’t give a lot away, but we need to be on the front foot and win the second ball. Snuff out their counter and keep pressure on. At home, we always want to win and that is the mission.”
For the France game, Blind doesn’t have a different aim. “Again, playing at home, you need to be gutsy and confident. I analysed the friendly against France and they were better. It will be different than playing Belarus. France wants the ball and wants to play. This will give us opportunities.”
The former Ajax captain doesn’t wanna give much away regarding the line up, but it is clear that De Vrij, Dost and Karsdorp are making it hard for him. Veltman didn’t impress earlier and seems not in great shape for Ajax either. Dost scores as if he played for Sporting for years and Stefan de Vrij impresses in Italy again. Janmaat being injured, Karsdorp might start. “He is playing well and it’s an advantage to play in De Kuip for him. It’s his home and he’ll feel confident.” He is not planning to use both strikers. “Dost is not a Plan B player alone. He could easily start. I will pick one or the other. I did take Siem de Jong along for an all or nothing hail mary end of the match, if need be.”
Wesley Sneijder didn’t come to the Oranje camp without issues. A muscle injury in his thigh got him subbed for Gala. “Sneijder seems fit now, but with muscle issues, he could actually be in trouble after 10 minutes. It’s a scenario I need to keep in mind. And prepare for that.”
Oranje in training