Tag: Memphis

Prelim Squad announced for Oranje

Almost a month to go and we’re starting to leave the club competitions behind us.

You will have seen the squad selection by now? I don’t think too many surprises.

For some, the absence of Bizot was a surprise, as he was called up for the last international games. He was most likely part of the prelim squad, if not for some domestic family issues. Marco decided to forfeit the Euros as his family circumstances have not been resolved and he prefers to be with the family during the summer.

The list of injured players ( Hartman, Wieffer, Lang) might become longer with question marks for Marten de Roon, Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay and Zirkzee, while Luuk de Jong definitely retired from the NT.

Calvin Stengs, Thijs Dallinga and Steven Berghuis will have had idle hope and should something happen to Malen or Bergwijn or Xavi Simons, these three might still get a look in.

If Frenkie and Memphis can join the squad, I do believe we’ll be in good shape.

We simply need our key players to be in form and Koeman to pick a logical starting eleven for the games at the Euros.

I mean, our goalkeepers are fine. Our central defenders are top. Maatsen and Ake can cover the left side, even Blind might be able to play against opponents parking the bus. Frimpong and Dumfries will cover the right with Geertruida also on hand.

Our midfield options are pretty good, with Veerman, Schouten, Reijnders and Koopmeiners and when fit, we can expect some fire upfront from Malen, Gakpo, Simons and Brobbey.

As mentioned, we need Koeman to make the right decisions and allow the players to play to their strengths.

It may sound simplistic, but we need two teams: 1 that can dominate possession against the minions and 1 that can play on the transition when playing the strong countries who themselves want to dominate.

I will suggest three at the back in both scenarios and I would personally use Bijlow as first goalie.

My two teams:

 

 

Tell me your fave line up in the comments….

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The State of Orange (Oranje)

As a national team coach, you want to be able to mould your best team, tactics, approach and squad by now, some 3 months before the tournament.

The two friendlies, against serious opponents, should have told us many things. And it did. But not sure if it was what Koeman wanted.

Not sure what the plan was versus Scotland, with the new 3-5-2 set up (or 3-2-3-2).

Disappointingly for Koeman, we won’t know for sure as the execution was not great. Some players didn’t reach their usual level (Wieffer, Simons, Frimpong) while Memphis is clearly not 100% fit.

Add to that the absence – again – of Frenkie and it’s hard to ascertain where we stand.

Versus Scotland, we played under par for an hour or so but still won 4-0. Against Germany , we played well at stages but lost 1-2.

Two corner kicks: two goals. Fixable, sure, but not something Koeman will be happy with.

Koeman was able to use his subs and shift form shape to shape, so the flexibility of the team and the adaptability of the team seems to be getting better.

I think, when all the players will be fit, we do have a very good squad. But I also think that France, England, Spain and Italy are a bit further than us, in terms of solid game play, patterns and key players.

Sadly, as it happens with every tournament, we won’t have all players available at the Euros.

Some conclusions:

Stop the silly systems debate

As always, people spend hours debating which system Holland should play. This is an irrational discussion. We played 4-3-3 versus Scotland, or so it seemed. But it was actually a 3-5-2. Against Germany, we played 3-2-3-2 but again, in the practice it was. four man defence as one of the midfielders dropped back to start the build up. Daley Blind was hardly ever in defence, but played as an extra midfielder and at times as a number 10 even. Joey Veerman dropped back to assist the defenders in their build up. Ake moves to the left back space.

In the second half, Blind kept the pitch wide, allowing Memphis to explore the half spaces on the left hand side.

Ake as left centre back, Blind playing wide wingback in a 4 men midfield.

What system is this? Never mind. It’s about space and how to use the space. Not about numbers on a playing field, when the ref whistles to start the match.

Creating the free man

Koeman is keen to use his midfielders and front men to create a free man in our team. He put Reijnders one v one on Kroos and instructed Memphis to harass Andrich, the Germany holding mid. This forced Germany to build up via Tah. This way Koeman could stack the centre of the pitch with two holding mids (Veerman, Schouten) and always kept three defenders to deal with the mercurial Germany forwards.

Blind playing central midfielder

This chess face-off meant that Germany was still in control on their own half, but were not able to be a threat against us, in terms of goal scoring opportunities.

Here Blind is playing as second 10

Donyell Malen is like a panther

We have quite a number of top forwards or top potentials in the attacking line, with Lang (now injured), Gakpo, Simons, Brobbey, Zirkzee, Stengs and Bergwijn but Malen offers something the others players don’t have. Malen is explosive, fast and very willing to make runs deep. The other players all want the ball to feet. Lang and Simons do tend to go deep, as does Bergwijn, but not as their first instict. Malen is like a panther, lurking and watching for his change to spring into action.

This makes him a unique player in the squad and should cement his spot in the squad if not the team. In the first half, Malen was instrumental in our first goal, even though he never touched the ball. He had two more breaks and in the second half he presented both Memphis and Reijnders with 2 100% chances. Both players mishit the ball and aimed too high.

Yes, Malen played well but goes to sleep here and allows Musiala some touches in the box

Still, he has his moments of snoozing off (like big cats do) and he was at fault, partly, with the first German goal. He didn’t cut off the pass and was a bit late in reacting to their short corner allowing Musiala to be a threat ( who assisted the ball to the goalscorer).

Jerdy Schouten is a keeper

Schouten played against Germany like he does for PSV, all season long. Very tight on the ball, always in control, always with great care. Van Gaal didn’t think he was good enough after half a game for Holland but Peter Bosz and Ronald Koeman are convinced. On top of that, Schouten plays a lot of forward passes as well, in true Frenkie de Jong style, starting a number of threatening moves. When he got subbed, at the 75th minute, he had most interceptions to his name as well. I don’t want to be over the top here, but he would be a top replacement for Toni Kroos at Real Madrid.

I think Schouten passed his exams and will battle it out with Koopmeiners, Wieffer, Reijnders, De Roon and Veerman for the next-to-Frenkie spot.

Our goalies are fine

We don’t need to worry about our goalies anymore. Flekken and Verbruggen both impressed. Bijlow will return. Nick Olij is a fine shotstopper and Bizot has impressed in France.

So, it seems we might be in good shape this summer.

But if we go through to the last 4, I believe it will be partly due to luck and a favourable draw.

I don’t think Oranje deserves to be seen as a top contender but with the right mix and the key players available and in form, we can surprise.

Koeman called this international break “the final exams”. The jigsaw pieces have not all been in place to show the big picture and the former Barca coach is still playing with them.

Verbruggen impressed

His own conclusion: “I have not been able to find the right combinations, and I fear it’s the result of this injury ridden campaign. And as the calendar keeps getting fuller, I don’t understand why we are now being limited to take 23 players instead of 26. We know already from experience that from the date we have to send in our list of names and the first match, players will drop off. That is always the case.”

Koeman said he already knows who his Euros goalie is, and it seems to be Bart Verbruggen. Only Bijlow is fit and plays a series of impressive matches will he be able to replace Bizot as third goalie.

In defence, it is clear that Virgil, Ake, De Ligt, Dumfries and Geertruida are certain of their spot. Frimpong didn’t impress this time around, but used properly, the speedy right wing back will make the squad, as will multi-functional brainiac Daley Blind.

In midfield, a fit Frenkie is on the bus as well, as will Reijnders be. He didn’t disappoint in his Oranje matches and impresses with his legs, lungs, intelligence and technique.

Wijnaldum seems a shoe in as well. Why select him now otherwise. Koeman has loyalty to Gini and knows the former Feyenoord talent gels well with Memphis. Mats Wieffer has mixed results but Koeman rates the midfielder high and he does have some credit. But he’ll need to show it to the coach in the coming matches.

Schouten is in the same boat as Wieffer. Very promising but a thin foundation as yet. Koeman will be focusing on their performances in the coming months.

Marten de Roon will most likely be in the squad as the only enforcer we have. He never complaints and is one of the leaders off the pitch. Koopmeiners however, who had to leave the camp with an injury, is exceptional in the Serie A, but never really impressed in the orange jersey.

Joey Veerman is not for everyone. Very good on the ball, vulnerable without. He played well in the past Oranje matches but was exposed in several CL matches for PSV. Koeman will throw a dice regarding Veerman and Koopmeiners.

Quinten Timber might nog have been able to show enough in this break and might need to focus on a spot after the Euros, to replace Wijnaldum on the road to 2026.

Xavi Simons is one of the few creative sparks in the team and despite a disappointing series, he will be on the bus as well.

Upfront, it seems Memphis, Gakpo, Malen and Weghorst are certain of their ticket. The question marks will be stalwarts Berghuis and Bergwijn, who both need a super strong finish of the season. Koeman mentioned before that he finds Berghuis to be a unique player and therefore potentially a part of the squad. This gives Koeman another option on the right wing.

Calvin Stengs might have a super end to the campaign and also be in the running for the right wing position. Brobbey and Zirkzee will also be right in Koeman’s radar for the coming games and Brobbey will be part of the squad when fit, it feels.

Micky van der Ven, the left footed centre back of Spurs could also make the squad as his speed and ability to play on any spot in defence makes him an ideal squad player.

Some more question marks: Q Hartman, Stefan de Vrij, Nick Olij, Ian Maatsen and Noa Lang.

And what to do with Summerville… He’s on fire for Leeds and is close to a senior call up, in particular when one or more attacking options (Gakpo, Malen, Simons) fall away with injuries…

Strap yourselfs in, we’re heading to an exciting finish of the season.

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Memphis’ injury a blessing?

This is not a sentence I expected to write. Ever. Memphis has been super important for the Dutch NT, ever since his appearance at the World Cup in 2014. Under coach Koeman, the explosive and talented forward led the team, scored a record number of goals and is well on his way to become Oranje’s all time goalscorer and most likely most capped player. Or so it seemed.

But, the former Sparta youngster hasn’t been able to shine for more than a year now. His Euros was lacklustre and his World Cup a big question mark. He went from injury to injury and was absent more than present, both at Barcelona and more recently at Atletico.

But, as we established here, as the Dutch have trouble to thank their heroes and force them out to make way for new stars, it was a real question whether coach Koeman would make wholesale changes or whether he would rely on the old guard. Virgil, Cillesen, Memphis, Daley Blind, Wijnaldum…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many coaches before ( Zwartkruis in 1980, Beenhakker in 1990, Van Marwijk in 2012, Van Gaal recently), it seemed Koeman was falling back on the old hands, but reality has reared up it’s not so ugly head and helped the former snow flake a bit.

Cillesen had a couple of howlers at the end of the season and couldn’t dig a hole big enough to hide in.

Daley Blind hardly played and has already been told he’s out of the squad.

Wijnaldum is stil with the squad but with his recent lacklustre performances and with Koopmeiners’ classy run as a #10, I don’t think Gini will feature much.

Virgil was able to claw back to a decent form, after a season of mishits and stumbles and will most likely lead the team out versus Croatia.

And Memphis? Well, he pulled out himself. Not fit enough to play and prefers – smartly – to prep for the new season in Madrid.

And it’s a blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arie Haan in 1974

And don’t forget: we know how coach sometime end up with their success formulas just by sheer luck, coincidence or as the result of setbacks. Michels lost all his centre backs in 1974 (Israel, Laseroms, Drost, Mansveld, Hulshof) and decided to put midfielder Arie Haan in the back with young stopper Wim Rijsbergen.

Or in 1988, when the same Michels started the Euros with 4-3-3, with Marco van Basten on the bench. A player who almost didn’t make the cut. After one match – losing versus USSR – Michels went to a 4-4-2 with Van Basten and Gullit up front. The rest is history.

Van Gaal and his three at the back in 2014? This came about due to an injury for defensive mid Kevin Strootman and an experiment of Koeman with Feyenoord away at PSV.

The Memphis injury could well be a key break for Koeman. Or, as Cruyff would say it, this could be an advantage resulting from a disadvantage.

Koeman and Van Gaal both were tempted to to use two wingbacks and three defenders, to build a solid foundation and create space for his mercurial forward. Memphis needed freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny Bosman versus USSR in 1988

But the 3 at the back system didn’t work for Koeman as he saw that his team had issues dominating the game. At the same time, Ten Hag showed how you can do it, with a 4-2-3-1 system. When Frenkie de Jong came into view, Koeman switched to the Ajax system, with two central defenders, at times augmented by the deep lying De Jong, who’d drop in between, pushing the full backs further up the field.

Frenkie made his entrance in Sneijder’s farewell match versus Peru and the new Oranje system was settled. In 2018, Koeman built his team around Virgil, Wijnaldum and Memphis. The latter two do not have the status or form they had back then and it’s time for a change.

The only two Dutch forwards who perform at a high level in big competitions are Cody Gakpo and Donyell Malen. Therefore, it seems only logical to build the team around a new #9: Gakpo.

At Liverpool, he plays like a false 9, with two offensive midfielders in his back. Fabinho, the defensive lock, will be paired with Trent Alexander-Arnold who joins the midfield from the back, a role Geertruida plays at Feyenoord. At Liverpool, Andy Robertson is the third centre back, which is the role Ake plays at Man City. Both Van Dijk and De Ligt are accustomed to this system.

It seems Oranje could well play in this same form, although Dumfries might be at odds in this role. It’s not very likely that Koeman will drop the Inter right back though, but this Liverpool/Man City system could well work for Holland.

For me, I don’t think we can go beyond Ake as left back. He can fill the job the way Blind did, as Ake too is a great passer of the ball.

This leaves space for Frenkie to explore the left side a bit and in my midfield, I would have Mats Wieffer playing the defensive mid, with Frenkie next to him but with freedom to roam on that left flank.

My number 10 in this system is Teun Koopmeiners. I don’t like him much as a six, but in the #10 role he is killing it at Atalanta. I’d pick Xavi Simons as the left winger and Malen on the right, of course.

Noppert should not start, in my view, and if it’s a toss up between Flekken and Bijlow, I’d go for the latter.

As for the RCB, I would pick De Ligt versus a static #9 and Timber versus the more diminutive forwards (like David Silva or Alexander Isak). Not sure what Croatia will bring.

This is my line up.

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Naive Oranje humiliated in France

The number of times I had to write “boys v men” on this blog in the past decade is simply not funny anymore. Rafael van der Vaart compared our game v France with youth football.

This virus plagued Oranje got hammered by a lethal France and only have themselves to blame. Debutant Geertruida and youngster Xavi Simons are two of the players who scored a decent rating. Most of the others disappointed gravely in an avalanche of errors.

When Daley Blind is the cause for the only positive aspect of this game, you know we’re in trouble. Daley got his 100th cap for Oranje and joins the Oranje elite (behind Sneijder, Van der Sar, De Boer, Van der Vaart, Van Bronckhorst, Kuyt, Van Persie and Cocu and just in front of Robben).

In the 21st minute, when we’re trailing 3-0 against Les Blues, the stats tell the story: Holland has close to 70% possession of the ball. France has 3 shots on goal. Holland has 4 shots on goal. France has 3 goals. Oranje zero, nada, zilch.

We dominated the ball but France scored the goals. Deschamps gets the game he dreamed of, with The Netherlands gifting Coman, Kolo Muani and Mbappe all options to counter attack with their speed.

Koeman’s line up surprised a bit. Berghuis as winger/midfielder was a surprise to me, I expected Xavi Simons there. And I expected Malen, with his speed as well. I hoped for Wieffer but he wasn’t 100%, so Koeman decided against him and picked Taylor. Gravenberch was added to the squad late, after Veerman had to depart due to the gastro virus, but Taylor had more games at Ajax. De Roon was an obvious choice. But to play Geertruida and Timber “against type” was another surprise.

Oranje’s 70% possession didn’t do much for us. Why, because the French coach had a good idea which Dutch player to allow the ball. Griezmann covers Taylor (like he used to do on Frenkie) and De Roon is the man in midfield allowed to build up. Not his strength.

Another remarkable aspect: Koeman wants his full backs to remain wide and hugging the line. Ake on the left and Timber on the right usually play more inside as full backs (like Malacia at Man U and Geertruida at Feyenoord). Playing so wide means that the centre backs Geertruida and Van Dijk have difficulties reaching the wide man and regularly only see De Roon as their outlet. Again, not the man where you want the build up to start.

And this happened under Koeman I as well: the moment De Roon is played in, the French midfielders pounce hoping for a mistake. And this is exactly what happens in the first 90 seconds when Holland is patiently kicking the ball around.

The ball is on the right flank. Taylor omits to look over his shoulder, he only sees the ball. He is played in and is totally obliviousto Griezmann making a go for the ball. He passes square to De Roon who is hijacked by Rabiot and two passes later it’s 1-0. Also check the video to see how Taylor jogs back instead of busting a lung to mark Griezmann who ended up scoring their first goal.

The second goal is also the result of an error. It’s Cillesen this time who should be able to just collect the ball from a free kick from the right. But the NEC goalie misjudges the ball and the leather bounces from his arm onto the oncoming Upamecano: 2-0. An error yes, but at least one that you can sympathise with. A number of attackers and defenders were jumping in front of Cillesen, obstructing his views. A mistake like this is easily made. But … not nice to be 2-0 down after 9 minutes.

The free kick, from where this goal came, was the result of another positional error by the team. As you can see below.

Van Dijk is trying to play the offside- Liverpool style. But Timber and Geertruida have other ideas, probably due to the speed of MBappe and Coman. The pass is good, towards Coman and Geertruida makes the foul.

This miscommunication is typical for a team that doesn’t show any unity in thinking and doing. The players are too busy with their own individual role and don’t seem to see the bigger picture.

The third goal is after we see a variant used by Koeman in his first period, with a holding mid (normally Frenkie) dropping deep next to the central defenders to start the build up. This used to work, with powerhouse Dumfries high up the right channel. With Timber, it’s less logical. The Ajax central defender is best in the axis of the field. Why Koeman switched Geertruida and Timber is anyone’s guess.

This is just before the goal. Geertruida carries the ball. De Roon takes Timber’s spot. No one in midfield is open, so Geertruida is looking for Timber who is free. But the pass lacks pace, Hernandez read it well and sprints full swing to intercept the ball. In terms of numbers, this should not be a problem, as we have De Roon, Geertruida, Van Dijk and Ake in the defensive organisation while Taylor is also behind the ball. But still we get in trouble, as the players are not ideally positioned and Taylor does not coach his team mates like for instance De Roon or De Jong do in Oranje, or Kokcu at Feyenoord. So no one puts pressure on Tchouameni, the task of Wijnaldum. And when MBappe is at full speed, it’s De Roon who needs to track back, not something he does well. De Roon also lacks the speed needed. Muani lets the ball run and Mbappe gobbles it up: 3-0.

Koeman then switches Timber and Geertruida back to their usual positions and brings Weghorst for the disappointing Taylor, to spice things up a bit. It’s a bit too little too late, as France knows the match is won and they do take their foot off the gas. Therefore, it’s hard to judge the eleven that play the remainder of the game for us.

The game ends with another amateuristic error: a risky pass forward by Van Dijk, miscontrol by Memphis and he seems to pay the perfect assist to his friend MBappe who scores a superb 4-0.

Memphis missing a late penalty for Oranje is typical for the teams performance, on a night when everything we do fails.

Holland doesn’t have the calibre players that France have. As the saying goes: the better team will win against the better individuals. Sadly, Holland also doesn’t have the better team…

 

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Ronald Koeman interview

As per our customs, we like to present a new team manager via a “Big Interview”. In this case, the manager isn’t new. The interview is still big.

Ronald Koeman, the new team manager for Oranje. Welcome…

Koeman: “I am so blessed, happy and priviliged to be the….

Yes, you can stop the cliches and the asskissing Ronald, we know your drill by now, ladidadida I am so proud, yadda yadda… is there another clause in your agreement? Will you forsake Oranje again?? Maybe when Spurs come calling?

“Oops, no. I get what you’re saying. No clause this time.”

Yes, because you were so keen to coach Oranje but you left at a key time and you left us with Frank de Boer and Louis van Gaal. Two major tournaments wasted opportunities. What do you have to say for yourself?

“Like I said, there is no clause now and I am happy and blessed and….”

Enough! What can we expect?

“Well, like I said before. I am a 4-3-3 man. I will not proceed with the LVG style of 5 at the back, whatever Louis called it. We’re going back to the system with which I had success, before I …”

Yes, shut up. How did you enjoy the World Cup?

“I think it was an exciting World Cup. The Qatar location wasn’t a success, neither was the winter time, for me at least, but we saw some exciting games. The Dutch could and should have done better, I feel, but I think everyone feels this way.”

What was the reason? Van Gaal?

“It’s tempting to say yes to that. But in all fairness, our top forwards were not in good shape. Gakpo did ok, but Memphis and Bergwijn were the go-to guys for Louis and I think he betted on the wrong horses. Overall, we didn’t have the quality we needed to have.”

How do you think you can overcome this?

“I hope I will make better decisions. But I won’t go back into the World Cup or stuff that happened before me. It’s not fair on Louis and not fair on the lads. I wasn’t there. I want to focus on the games ahead and the tournaments where I can have an impact. I do believe 4-3-3 will be a better option for us. Playing three at the back because you have top defenders is not good enough for me. I mean, we won’t play 5 strikers when we have 5 top goal scorers, would we?”

You came up with the definitive squad for these two Euro Qualification matches. It seemed the goalies and the strikers were a problem but now that is overshadowed by the loss of Frenkie de Jong. Can we cope without him?

“Of course! We will field 11 players, don’t worry. And we do not have a “second Frenkie” in the sense that Frenkie is quite unique. But even with Koopmeiners injured we have alternatives. They will play their part in a different way, but they can definitely play in that role. Wijnaldum played there, De Roon did, Berghuis even, Taylor plays in his role at Ajax and Blind played there a couple of games as well. And I have Wieffer and also Joey Veerman in the squad. Geertruida can play there even!”

Daley Blind? People will wonder why he is even in the squad?

“Really? He played 99 matches for Oranje! A player like him will always get his exit through the front door! He has been a good and loyal soldier of orange and although I did tell him that he shouldn’t count on a starting spot at LB, he can still be very important for us. He can play on 3 different spots and he brings a lot of know how and experience in the dressing room. I want to be able to give him his 100st international game, he deserves it. But whether I will keep on selecting him will hinge on his game time, moving forward.”

Ok, so no LB role for him anymore?

“No, listen when we play 4 at the back, Nathan Ake and Malacia are two excellent candidates and we have the likes of Bakker and Hartman coming through too. Daley is vulnerable defensively, that is no secret, but he can definitely play in the central midfield role, when we play with two pivots.”

Exactly what Van Basten and Gullit said in the Rondo talkshow.

“Yes but I don’t need them to tell me. Everyone knows this. But I have options. I can play De Roon if I want to build in more defensive strength. Or Berghuis, Taylor or even Wieffer if I want to play more offensive.”

Would you risk it with Wieffer in his debut match? Against France?

“Sure, why not? When you’re part of the squad, you’re part of the squad. He will have to show me, of course, during practice here, but I saw him play against Ajax, and Shaktar and those are games at a high level and he was great. I also added Veerman to the mix, we’re not in bad shape at all and Frenkie is a player who – like any player – can get injured or suspended so we need to find ways to cope.”

How bad was the news for you, that Luuk de Jong and Vincent Janssen withdrew from international football?

“Bad bad…. it was a surprise. I would never expect a player to say thanks to Oranje but hey, times change. I mean, Luuk is getting on and his body might need the rest at times. I respect that. He’s 32 and started his pro life at 17 or so? 15 years of knocks and pushes and battles. It’s a shame because he is definitely one of the best headers in the game in Europe, but like Janssen, he wouldn’t be a starter. Vincent has a young family and I think the pace of today’s game forces him to slow down. I think we demand too much of our players. All these matches, it’s nuts.”

Do we now have a strikers problem?

“Nah. I don’t think so. Gakpo plays striker for Liverpool. Memphis at Atleti. We have Danjuma who will hope that Kane moves on, we have Brobbey, Dallinga, Malen, Lang and even Simons can play there. Oh and Weghorst. I think we will manage.”

And the goalies?

“I understand there was a highly scientific approach re: the goalies. I’m a simple man and the father of a goalkeeper and I think a goalie needs to stop balls from going into the net. With Cillesen, Flekken, Bijlow and now also Verbruggen we have good goalies. Cillesen has years in him still, and the others obviously too. Noppert is top as well, but injured now and I can see more good goalies in the Eredivisie, like Olij and Vaessen. We – again – should be ok.”

There was some surprise re: Frimpong versus Geertruida and Tete?

“I can understand this, but I have a simple answer. Geertruida can play RB in a 4-3-3, he can also play central defender really well, and he can play also in the defensive mid role in midfield. Frimpong for me is more a wingback or even a right winger! He is excellent in Van Gaal’s system, so to speak. I think Geertruida is a better defender, Frimpong excellent in attack. But defenders need to be able to defend.”

Dumfries is suspended of course, for the France game. Tete was quite annoyed with the snub, he made some public comments about it. It felt like you were playing with his balls?

“I didn’t hear him say it, and he might have used this as a metaphor. I’m not impressed but I will call him after these matches and suss him out. I don’t think he has anything to complain. I got him into the squad again and I have gotten him into this prelim squad. I think Geertruida has been impressing way longer than Tete, who is only back at full form since this season. But I will call him up and see how he is.”

So Geertruida versus Mbappe? 

“Yes why not. Or Timber.”

How do you see this qualifications group?

“I think we’ll need to be at our best versus all opponents. The onus is onus is on us and France. Two nations qualify and that should be us. But you can easily get into trouble against one of the others. Maybe not Gibraltar but even that match will not be an easy one. They never are. But if we don’t qualify, I will have failed.”

Are you positive about our future? Talent development?

“I am very positive. Look at the level of the Dutch clubs these days. Sure, Feyenoord is top, Ajax is always top, PSV will be there, but now AZ and FC Twente are joining in, Sparta, NEC and RKC are performing ever so well, our overall level is going up. And there is excellent talent, all over the place. Xavi Simons, Summerville at Leeds, Struijk at Leeds, Huissen at Juventus, we have Wieffer now, I still believe in Rensch and Teze, I can see talent at Ajax and Feyenoord, like Hartman. And it’s great to see a player like Malen getting back into shape, Lang and Danjuma are still young. We develop some great central defenders too, there is Botman, Struijk, Schuurs and Micky van de Ven, Bjorn Meijer, I mean truly… The future is bright.”

And you also seem to be keen to bring Wijnaldum back?

“For me, Wijnaldum always needs to be part of Oranje, as long as he’s fit. He always delivered under me. I am not saying it was Van Gaal’s problem, as Gini could indeed have a lesser period, it happens, but I can only refer to his many goals, his partnership with Memphis, his work ethics, I mean… Gini is top class. It’s not for nothing that the Liverpool midfield struggled without him.”

How do you rate Xavi Simons?

“He is a tremendous talent. From a footballing perspective, he’s a top class and his mentality is even better. He is not here to do tricks or to make pannas, he wants to win matches. Whenever he plays, something happens. That is really good to see.”

What do you expect from France?

“I think they will play their usual compact game. They want to create space for MBappe and they won’t press high. The pitch will be small when we have the ball and we need to be neat in possession and create options for triangles. And our rest defence needs to be top notch. We will need some training sessions for this, still.”

My eleven for the France game:

Cillesen

Geertruida  –  Timber – Van Dijk – Ake

Marten de Roon – Daley Blind – Wijnaldum

Xavi Simons – Weghorst – Memphis

Result: 2-2 (goals Memphis and Wijnaldum and two own goals by Daley)

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Oranje back to drawing board

And here is the final result of the little Scorito competition we had going, the competition of course being called Lowievenkaals Armie. Shawn is the absolute GOAT of this competition.

Shawn, congrats! You will have bragging rights till the next World Cup. Robin is France, I am Croatia and Sjaak is Morocco. Ah well….

Despite a heroic comeback versus Argentina, Oranje is home licking their wounds. I am sad Morocco didn’t get a trophy to show for their contributions and with the Atlas Lions out, the real Dutch connection ( Ziyech, Amrabat, Mazraoui, Aboukhlal) to this World Cup is gone. There is no real connection with the French for us, and generally speaking, the Dutch are not big fans of Les Blues. Messi will always be my fave player, even if he gave Weghorst and LVG a piece of his mind. The Argentinian connection is there (Rijkaard / Ten Cate > Messi, Tagliafico and Martinez > Ajax) and I wish them well.

In The Netherlands, it’s back to the drawing board. Van Gaal’s final conclusion seem to have been “We have not wingers of top class”. Despite this, it was the move of Gakpo to the left and Berghuis to the right with two tall towering strikers which got us the equaliser and extra time in the quarter finals. It was warrior Wout Weghorst who got the final free kick which Koopmeiners took in Weghorst’s Wolfburg style, to get us a sniff of hero-ism. But Van Gaal made a bad judgement call for the extra time, counting on penalty success.

The fear of conceding was bigger than the wish to kill the opponent off.

Before the match, he also made a bad call, in thinking Argentina would not adjust to us and he felt the 3-4-1-2 would give us a good chance to win. But, Scaloni surprised by bringing Martinez as an extra defender, nullifying our tactical “advantage”. Argentina forced the ball onto us and this scenario paid out for Scaloni.

One brilliant Messi pass and a cheap penalty gave Argentina the lead: Van Gaal beaten with his own stick.

Since the bronze medal in 2014 we missed out on two major tournaments. We seemed to stick to what we know best, building up from the back, possession based football with wingers. All this in an era in wich the game got quicker and more tactical. Countries like Iceland, Sweden, Turkey and Bulgaria were able to throw sand in the not-so-slick Oranje machine, by defending as a team and playing compact. Waiting for the mistake. The Dutch were the Dodo of International football.

Self professed fans of Dutch football, Guardiola and Klopp were able to introduce concepts like the high press and positioning play by dividing the playing field in particular zones. In this way they found new ways to achieve balance while attacking. In the Eredivisie, coaches like Peter Bosz, Erik ten Hag and Arne Slot followed suit and were able to perform on the European stage with success.

Ronald Koeman copied this blue print after a shaky start. Left back Blind became the third central defender in the build up. Bergwijn would drift inwards, opening up space for Dumfries who covered the full right flank. On the other flank, Koeman used Ryan Babel to keep the width on the left. The yield of the wingers was limited. Bergwijn didn’t score at all in 9 matches, Babel scored 4 in 17 matches. Oranje was very dependent on Memphis Depay and his partnership with Gini Wijnaldum. Under Koeman we beat France, Germany and England, but we also lost against France, Germany and Portugal.

We could beat any team but we could also lose against any team. Under Frank de Boer we lost against Mexico, Turkey and the Czechs using different systems. This was the context when Van Gaal stepped in.

Van Gaal decided to use the learning from the past and introduced the compact playing style to the team, with the aim to build up with short passes and moves in order to combine forward. The execution was poor, to say it nicely. The simple basic things didn’t work. Creating triangles to get players on the ball, for instance. In particular the right flank was weak. No wonder Oranje played its best game against the USA, the only game in which we had less possession than the opponent.

We can debate endlessly about what went wrong, but in essence it comes down to quality, or lack thereof. Phillipp Lahm, the former Germany full back, said it best when comparing Argentina with Holland: “All the players of Argentina have what it takes in modern football: strong in the one versus one, defensively and offensively. These individual skills are what it takes to win matches, not tactics.”

Guardiola says it differently: “When I look at a player to sign for my club, I basically look at one thing only: can he dribble. Does he control the ball? I only want players who have a dribble. All the other things, like a touch, or a pass or a shot, I can teach. I cannot teach players to dribble. It’s impossible to beat a defensive team without players who can dribble.”

These are quite succinct statements explaining the problems we currently have with Oranje.

In five matches, incl extra time vs Argentina, we mustered 17 successful dribbles. That is less than Jamal Musiala of Germany on his own. Only Cody Gakpo managed to do this more often than twice. Gakpo totalled 5 successful dribbles, all in all. Mempis had 2. Denzel Dumfries? Zero. Frenkie had 3, Timber 3 and Berwijn only 1.

Arjen Robben had 5 successful dribbles in one match, in 2014. The lack of form and fitness of Memphis was not present this time, as he usually is the player to create something out of nothing.

We lacked creativity. That is the bottom line. In 2016, the Dutch FA came with a report: Winners of Tomorrow. Their conclusion was that we needed better defenders! While at that time, Ake, De Vrij, Martins Indi, Blind and others were already playing at very decent levels in Europe. While attacking creative talent was scarce.

Our successful generations ( Cruyff, Rensenbrink, Rep, Van Basten, Roy, Witschge, Davids, Kluivert, Bergkamp, Rijkaard, Rob de Wit, Van der Vaart, Robben) were produced not at the club but on the street. Exactly like Brazilians or Moroccans are developed. The youth academies don’t seem to be able to replicate the street, in their youth development plans.

This is the most important lesson for the KNVB. That, and never ever allowing a coach to abandon his post because a dream club is interested in signing him.

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Argentina is easy to beat

Allow me to start with apologising to all of you for the ongoing drivel about Berghuis and Blind. I keep on saying I won’t be baited and still it happens. I will let the opinions be for what they are. I am a fan of both players, as is now well-known and I simply can’t understand why Bergwijn, Taylor, Janssen or Klaassen don’t get the same amount of vomit from some here, it seems a focused attack on these two guys. I know they’re no Roberto Carlos or Fernando Redondo but they are among the best we have and when they wear orange, I support them. Like I support Weghorst, or De Roon. Enough said. I’ll behave from now on.

Feyenoord coach Arne Slot is currently considered the best and most exciting coach in the Eredivisie. His work at Cambuur and AZ has been applauded but his mission to coach a new Feyenoord team to a European finals has definitely put him solidly on the map as the new crown prince of Dutch football (yes, we tend to use that term for new exciting coaches… most of them start to fail once they got that moniker). This year, Slot had to replace 8 starters in his team and despite a short pre-season with shifts in his squad, he ended the first season half ( a third really) on top!

Feyenoord coach Arne Slot

As a guest at the NOS Studio WC 2022, he made some interesting points about Oranje and the chances.

About Van Gaal’s choices.

“It’s normal for a coach not to explain in detail why he does things. Everything van Gaal does or says has a reason behind it, this is how I know him. Even him joking about becoming the new NT manager for Belgium is to deflect attention away from the team and put the spotlight on him. He will always defend his players towards the outside world. Internally, he can be and will be really vocal and direct and super honest. I think he started with the players he started with, partly because some of them came in with fitness issues. All the focus went to Memphis, but De Ligt, De Roon, De Vrij, Lang and even Frenkie had had issues with injuries. Blind, Klaassen and Berghuis missed a number of games at Ajax due to different reasons as well. Van Gaal used the group games to get his full squad match fit. The reason for him to bring De Roon and Klaassen in versus Qatar had to do with this, I believe. He could have left these players out, but that would mean they would even drift further apart from fitness, which could hurt the team in the knock-out stages. Managing squad fitness and squad happiness – as I call it – is a key factor for a coach, but it hardly gets attention. The reason: coaches don’t want to let other teams know that there might be fitness issues and secondly, most people have no idea what it means to train a player “up” as we call it. It’s a science. Talking about the issues of the individual is also something that goes against the privacy codes. Imagine Van Gaal discussing the health of De Vrij while his management is negotiating with Tottenham Hotspur. It’s a tricky thing.”

About Argentina:

“I am a huge Messi fan. In club games, he never disappointed. He will always do something that makes your mouth fall open. And if Messi is in top form, he will be a problem for Holland… For any opponent. But the thing is, the other 10 players are not of his level. Some of them are actually not that good. Most of them have no clue what to do with the time and space around them. When a team press them high, there will be space in their defence for Messi to have a go at. He can hurt you then. He only needs one or two moments to score. But if you stay compact, the other guys won’t have the creativity to find him. If you lock him in, he will not get much joy and their defence has trouble defending bigger spaces. I expect a similar game as against the US. Hopefully with Oranje better in possession of course. Australia at times had the ball for two full minutes in a row. Against Argentina! Because they are not good without the ball. And when they try and press, the pitch becomes big and we can play easily in between the lines. If we play and execute the Van Gaal plan well, we will not have a lot of problems and will win that game. One condition, our rest-defence needs to be solid. Because once you lose the ball in attack, they will look up and spot Messi, who usually has wondered to some area where he is unmarked and he will pounce. If we organise our defence well, and so far we did, we will win. This Argentina is not like the Barcelona of a couple of years back.”

Van Dijk afraid to go into aerial duel 🙂

VI’s Pieter de Zwart – master analyst – on Oranje. “Despite the fact that Van Gaal’s Oranje is performing below par, the defence of the team excels. Even the wingbacks have finally gotten the headlights now, in the USA game. Let’s focus on the last line of defence.

The 2014 Argentina game is a big blot on Van Gaal’s resume. As he sees it: Oranje should have won as we were the better team (according to Louis The Sun King). And this is also why penalties are getting all that focus, with Frans Hoek – keeper trainer and guru and even with scientific approaches. They have developed so-called action types, with very technical terms like horizontal players and vertical players. Some penalty takers go for an angle. Others go for power. Others wait for the keeper to make a move. How to spot the types and what to do against them, was the main topic. By the way, De Ligt and Malacia have leaked who the penalty killer of Oranje is. In a game called 30 seconds, the question Malacia got from De Ligt was: Penalty killer? and Malacia answered: Noppert. And then both: OOPS!!

In 2014, Oranje played with a make-shift defence: an attacker who played in Turkey (Kuyt), two young Eredivisie defenders ( De Vrij, Martins Indi), an older defender playing relegation football in England (Vlaar) and a midfielder (Blind). Today, we have three top central defenders, an experienced left back and a marauding right wing back.

The Three Stooges: Sleepy, Narcy and Grumpy

In Qatar, Oranje is one of six nations who only conceded one goal. Ecuador’s goal was actually the first chance we gave away. The Dutch NT is on par with the strong nations, at this World Cup.

Our defenders all play a specific role.

Denzel Dumfries

Johan Cruyff, Rob Rensenbrink and Denzel Dumfries. A nice list of names. All Dutch players involved with 3 goals in 1 match. When asked about Dumfries’ performance against the US, Van Gaal quipped: “I gave him a kiss, the other day. But as there are cameras present now, I will do it again!” And Van Gaal bent over to the Inter defender, sitting next to him, and smacked a big pucker on Denzel’s cheek. “Thank you sir” was Denzel’s response. In the group games, Dumfries played disappointing matches, because the opponents were waiting for him in the zone, blocking his marauding runs. Then, his weaknesses become apparent. Hard feet and lack of real skills. He is the Dutch international with the most losses of possession. By far. Against the USA, he plays against Pulisic who is not the most driven defender and Denzel can bomb forward. And where the former Sparta player used to blindly hit the ball towards the area, now he picks his head up and sees the free runner.

Jurrien Timber

The only defender who didn’t start every match. Van Gaal calls the position, central back, as the right central defender needs to cover for the missing Dumfries a lot. A role better suited to Timber, as De Ligt also claims. Timber feels fine, in that role. As he also is comfortable in midfield, with or without the ball. With Blind, he repossesses the ball the most times (8 times) and like Ake he has not been dribbled past at all this World Cup. In the attacking sense, Van Gaal is not happy with Timber, as none of his forward passes to the final third ended up at the feet of a team mate. Against Ecuador, it’s partly his doodling on the ball that resulted in the equaliser.”

Virgil van Dijk

The more you don’t notice Van Dijk, the better it is. Van Gaal calls him “the General Forward Press”. When Virgil manages his troops well, he doesn’t have to do much. This is different from his role at Liverpool and it took him some time to get used to. Initially, Virgil was uncertain in the five-at-the-back system but he has grown into it. Against Senegal and Ecuador, he is too static and passive, and he gets quite some criticism from the pundits in Holland. Against Qatar and the USA he has picked it up and plays more forward passes. This is the Fabinho role at Liverpool basically. His heading capabilities are golden for Oranje.

Nathan Ake

Ake is the revelation for Oranje this World Cup, playing consistent, focused and with confidence. Ake always finds a solution and always finds a player in an orange jersey. He seems to be continuously in control of the situation. All the lessons learned from Van Gaal’s former captain at Man City. Guardiola teaches his defenders to keep the ball and dribble in until an opponent bites and makes a move towards the ball. Then Ake passes, as another Oranje player will have time and space. Against the USA, he breaks through the lines with 10 passes! He is top in number of forward passes and he has the least loss of possession. Only twice against the USA, whereas the number two and three on the list lost possession five times (Van Dijk and De Roon). Ake has surpassed De Vrij and De Ligt in this system, quite a feat. In a four man defence, he would only be able to play left back as Van Dijk is beyond reproach for Van Gaal.

Daley Blind

In the run up to the World Cup, Van Gaal says it’s unbelievable that Blind gets so much criticism at Ajax. The team manager doesn’t look at what Blind can not do, but focuses on what he can do. Against the USA, Blind’s strengths are exploited to the max. On paper, you’d expect a mismatch between the leggy Blind and the fast Weah, so Van Gaal instructs Ake to take care of Weah and pushes Blind up to deal with Dest. Blind ends the game with the most tackles (7) and the most duels won (9).

Blind also offers his attacking threat, with a goal and an assist. Against the first opponent who dare to attack Oranje, the wingbacks appear to become our biggest threats moving forward. Van Gaal was proud like a peacock. Blind had 60 forward passes into the opponent’s defensive third, with Frenkie (43) and Gakpo (35) as second and third.

Van Gaal believes Argentina might play the same way as the USA, with Messi in the Pulisic role. If they do, he believes Oranje will have good chances to win.

I say: 3-0, with Memphis, Gakpo and Blind on the score board.

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On the road to the semis: Frenkie will come good

Frenkie was the first to admit he didn’t play well against the USA. But he’s quite confident he will be present versus Argentina. Frenkie discusses some topics, and believes the Dutch were always happy to reach the finals. For him, it ain’t enough.

The Best

“I was a fan from a young age. I had posters of him on my wall, I adored him as a player. And it was just amazing to be able to play with him, a dream come true. He is the best in everything. In positioning, in ball handling, in his passing, his finishing. He sees everything a couple of seconds earlier. And you know it, but still he surprised me so often, at training or in the match. It was a privilege to play with him and now also to play against him. I mean, playing Argentina at a World Cup, it doesn’t get better. We didn’t app each other no. I won’t either, and I don’t think he will. We’ll see each other at the stadium and we might have a quick word there. And if not it’s fine too.”

Dominating

“Everyone wants to know how we will stop Messi but it’s not about him, but about Argentina. I don’t know what would work best: sacrifice a player or just deal with him as a team. We need to dominate and play better than them and mind you, he’s not the only player in the team. In La Liga, all teams were trying to stop him and tried so many things, but he will always bind 2 or 3 players and he will always have one or two things he can do, whatever you are doing.”

The System

“I wasn’t good against America, but it’s not system related. I simply wasn’t top, physically. Dealing with the aftermath of a cold. We play this system for some time now and I have done ok in it. I am still playing at the same spot and I get to play a lot of balls and get a lot of touches, so for me it’s not even that different. We haven’t lost in 19 matches and we don’t concede much while we did play against some decent teams, like France, Belgium, Germany. We didn’t make the right choices in the first half against the USA but they only got one real chance in the first half, and that was a mistake from us.”

Naive

“I am a football fan, I want every team to play full on attack, but you always need to take form and the opponent into account. Our intention is to attack and dominate more but you need to make the right decisions. If you lose the ball and you are naive and want to keep 5 players before the ball, well, you will get in trouble. It’s that simple. You have to deal with what you have in front of you. It all starts with control and if you defend well, you will not lose so easily. By the way, our first goal versus America was not a counter goal, and it surely is one of the most beautiful goals of the tournament, in my view.”

Critics

“Did Van der Vaart say I must have preferred to stay in my hotel, after the first half against the USA? Hahaha, I didn’t hear that one. Well, yes. I was bad. It happens, sadly and we do hear the criticism and we need to deal with it. I mean, we have played better and we want to play better, but then again, we haven’t lost here yet and we’re in the quarter finals, so we can not be all that bad. And I prefer winning over playing beautiful.”

Running

“I don’t think I have to run more in this system. I do have to track my opponent, yes. With Barcelona, we are usually the stronger side, so the opponent needs to follow us, that is a big difference. We do need to keep the space compact so you don’t have to run that much. If not, you do run more. I think I made the most kilometers in the first half versus the USA, because we didn’t play well.”

Expectations

“I don’t think we will play better versus better opponents. I don’t think it works that way. Sure, there will be more space maybe, but to think that this will help us play better… we need to do the things right, we need to make the right decisions, stay focused and work hard. Offer options and recognise the opportunities. I think it’s normal for people that Brazil or France have more of the ball and if the USA has more of the ball, people don’t get it. But it was not because they were so good, it was because we didn’t manage to play our game.”

World Cup

“I love this tournament, because the whole planet is involved and all the people seem to be enjoying it, everywhere. It’s beyond club colours, and when you win, the whole nation is happy, whereas when Ajax wins, the Ajax supporters are happy. It’s a difference. I vividly remember the Oranje games at World Cups. Like the win over Brazil in 2010, or the match versus Argentina in 2014. How Mascherano had to do his utmost to stop Robben from scoring in the last minute, that sort of things.”

Praying

“I have considered to go with the praying group, who pray and meditate before the meals. I am not religious or anything, but it is a grounding thing and we have players from different religions, doing this. Memphis organises it, it’s a sort of gathering. You don’t need to be religious. The mood is great, and we really believe in ourselves. I have watched most games and there is not one team that really rises about the rest. Brazil played great games, but also some lesser games. This applies to all teams.”

Stress

“There is always some form of stress and I guess you need that too. It will be even more now, with those Argentina fans in the stadium, but every player enjoys that. That is stress you need in a way. The one I found tough to deal with, was the decider against Norway, at home. In front of an empty stadium due to Covid. That was eerie. And we needed to get a result as well. We could lose something there, while now, we can only win something: a place in the semi finals.”

The Title

“We really want it now. We have the team for it, we believe in it. We also haven’t lost a match for some time now and it’s only 3 more games, hahaha. It’s that simple, right? But seriously, we will be completely bummed if we don’t win. In the past, we were so happy to reach the finals, it felt like we reached something. We don’t believe this. Reaching the finals is a means to an end. Which is finally winning the whole thing.”

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Oranje taking on the US

My friends, I am moving house this weekend so no long stories. Just some fun tidbits. First some fun news on Pulisic, who is declared fit to play vs The Netherlands.

US coach Gregg Berhalter and players Sergino Dest and Luca de la Torre have well publicised histories in the Netherlands. Dest was born in the Netherlands and almost played for the Oranje, but the Milan star decided to go for the land of his parents. De La Torre played very recently for Heracles Almelo and coach Berhalter spent 6 seasons in Holland as a player. He played for Cambuur and Sparta and with the latter, he beat Louis van Gaal’s Ajax, 1-0 in 1997.

Not a lot of people know that Christian Pulisic played for PSV in 2013. For 2 weeks only. But as you can see below in the same team as Cody Gakpo, his opponent tonight. Pulisic was on trial and impressed PSV mightily. But when Borussia Dortmund offered Pulisic Sr. a job as youth coach on top, the youngster went for the German club.

Van Gaal didn’t give much away in the press conference. It’s everyone’s guess what he’ll do with the line up but I think he’ll use the usual players (no Xavi, no Lang) as he is hoping/working on getting his preferred eleven (13?) to start clicking into gear. He did joke that he heard the Belgium job was available after the World Cup and that his wife, the by know infamous Truus, wouldn’t mind living in Belgium for a spell.

Berhalter too had some fun moments in his presser. He said Van Gaal claimed not to remember losing against Sparta with Berhalter in 1997, but the USA coach thinks Louis was lying. “A guy like him remembers those sorts of things, trust me.” Berhalter has generated heaps of inspiration from his time in Holland. “It was great. What struck me was the after training and matches, players would debate tactics with the coach and everyone in Holland has an opinion. I learned a lot. We had a good striker in Remco Boere, he instructed me exactly how he wanted to crosses. I hit the ball with a lot of effect. He hated that. So I had to adjust.” Berhalter became good friends with current Feyenoord coach Arne Slot. “He was young still, 16 years old when I met him, but it was clear he could become a top coach. He is intelligent, calm and has a great view on football. Passion and intelligence.” He also laughed when asked about the criticism of the fans on Oranje. “That is normal in Holland. They are so critical and vocal. We once were 1-0 down against Ajax away, and the Ajax fans booed their team! You have 16 million national team coaches, right?”

Aaron Johansson and Steven Berghuis at AZ

Former USA international Aaron Johansson remembers his time in Holland as well, the part Icelandic, part American forward played with Steven Berghuis and Davy Klaassen. Injuries made an end to Johansson’s career. “I am not surprised to see Berghuis in Oranje. In fact, I expected him way earlier. He did have a tough time in England I guess, but has the most gifted left foot I ever came across. I am not surprised he is World Cup material. I played with Klaassen at Werder Bremen. Again, not surprised he is in the team. He is so good, his movements and the easy with which he plays. Always simple but always the right pass. Sometimes you don’t realise how good he is. He can make tough things look easy. It’s logical that he is in the line up.”

Johansson ended his statements saying he hopes USA wins 3-2, with a goal by Berghuis and Klaassen.

Why does Virgil van Dijk play as a goalie for Cameroon??

The betting analysts now moved Oranje up to fifth spot to win the World Cup, behind Brazil, Argentina, France, Spain, England and Portugal.

At the last Presser, Van Gaal responded to the criticism his team is receiving.  “Its not new.  I am used to it. I got it in 2014 as well. The players are used to it too. We just do our thing.” On the comments Memphis made, that he prefers to play with Bergwijn next to him and Gakpo behind him. “It’s his right to give his opinion. I don’t mind. It is something we do in The Netherlands. Particularly, in the Netherlands. Is it smart? No, I don’t think so but I can’t blame him for speaking his mind.”

And: “We are now all match fit, for the first time this tournament. We had players like Klaassen, De Roon, Berghuis, De Vrij and of course Memphis not totally 100% but we were able to bring them all to this point.”

I say: 3-1 for Holland. Memphis, Bergwijn and Gakpo scoring.

Interview Frenkie: with English subtitle option

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The Road to Qatar: Memphis believes!

We have seen many posts here on Memphis. About his rise to the top. About his tough childhood. His amazing skills, goals and stats and his incredible outfits. Yes, the latter has been a big thing in Dutch media, because… we have an opinion about literally everything.

The 28 year old is LVG’s hope in fearful days, but since his return after a 2 months absence, he has not been firing on all cylinders yet. Could we actually expect him to? But, Memphis believes he will improve and be ready to step up. “I have proven that I don’t need rhythm or even form, to play well in the next match.”

Oranje had a lot of possession against Qatar, but the ball pace was still too low. This is what made Oranje so wonderful to watch: good pace, lots of positioning chances, adventure, pressure… We didn’t see one decent attack – well maybe we saw a couple but not enough. But, Oranje qualified for the last 16 and is facing Team USA.

“I am very bad at watching a game from the bench. I’m even more nervous than. I don’t get nervous when I play. You have more control. Against Senegal and Ecuador, you see thinks that need to improve, but you can’t improve them. Medically speaking, it was unwise for me to start in those matches, but I always want to start and I can get a bit agitated when I don’t, hahaha.”

He did come on to the pitch, Louis van Gaal adamant to bring Memphis with some caution. “Getting onto the pitch after an hour or so is tough. Really is. The game has a flow, a pace and you need to quickly adapt. And in my role, I am a bit dependent on the balls I get, the way the others can play. Against Senegal, I had 3 touches in 15 minutes. That is debilitating for me. And then in the last stage, the ball comes into space, I can run with it and we end up scoring. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. You simply have less influence when you come onto the pitch in the second half.”

Against Qatar, he started. Finally. After 65 minutes he was rested but had a strong role in both goals. Overall, Van Gaal was high in his praise for Memphis, but the match was again quite disappointing.

Is it possible to play good football and to win?

Memphis: “Oh for sure, but it also depends on …what is good football? Some people love a team that dominates like Barcelona plays. Others like swift counter attacking teams, or teams that really do physical battle. But yes, I think we can all agree our match v Ecuador was below standards. We are all football fans ourselves and we are not satisfied.”

What is the solution?

“That is in the details, it’s subtle. The moments in which you can get away from your marker. Offering yourself as an option at the right moment. Passing lines, blocking them or opening them up. I am a forward, it is not my job to pick up the ball, like Frenkie does. And we need to have all the parts clicking. From the goalie to Virgil, via Frenkie and other players to me or Cody or whoever is up front. We all play our role. And we have lads on the bench who can make a difference still, with weapons we haven’t used yet. I think of Luuk or Noa or Xavi.”

Do you hear the criticism from Holland?

“Nope, I am not on social media during the World Cup. This all goes beyond me. I do that on purpose, to protect myself. I don’t need that info to perform. It’s all noise. I focus on what makes me better. I will hear from our coaches what I need to hear. All that is said and written by others, I try to ignore. I live in a tunnel at the moment.”

Is that easy to do?

“I had to learn that. When I played in England, for Man United, i heard all those things about me and it didn’t help me. At all. I was checking everything and I realised it is not something that works for me. It’s distracting and most of the stuff you read is not even true! The other day, they read that Noa was sent away from training. He came to me and said “why do they write this?” There was no issue, the physio wanted to see his foot and he had to go inside. Noa needs to close himself off from that, it’s a discipline thing. Once we are done in Qatar, I hope after the finals, I will turn my insta back on.”

How is your fitness?

“Well, there is fit and there is match fit. The muscle injury i had after Poland is gone. That happened two months ago and it’s all good now. But that doesn’t mean I am fit to play 90 minutes. You cannot emulate matches at training. As a sub, you do need to train the next day with the lads that didn’t play and that is pretty tough. I need it all to become fit as soon as possible.”

Did you ever doubt you’d be ready?

“Never. We didn’t need to rush anything in my recovery. There was a slight set back early on, and that has somewhat slowed me down, but not much. It is what it is. I never panicked. We had it all under control.”

There is being fit and being in form?

“Yes, but…what is form? You can have a nice period in your career, a flow, things go by themselves. But i can still be decisive for the team even if I am not in good form. I can decide a game in the 90st minute even if I play bad all match. It’s about moments. And I need to be there when my moment comes. That is tournament football. Is there one team that plays consistently good football? No, there are not that many amazing matches, but there are many amazing moments.”

Louis van Gaal basically said “we don’t have a chance without Memphis”. Does that give you additional pressure?

“No not at all. That pressure, I put on myself. Always. I want to be the key man, I want to be decisive for the team. I created those expectations myself. I have 42 goals for Oranje, well… people can expect something from me. And other players will step up too. When Frenkie and I were not there for the Nations League games, we still beat Belgium, right? We won against Senegal and drew versus Ecuador and Cody does the business for us. We will come far, as long as players remain fit.”

You created that level of expectation and if you’re honest, the whole team has done this, as has Louis van Gaal. Shouldn’t we be playing way better?

“Yes, for sure. I think so too and we are confident. No one will be able to convince us we are not good enough. Yes it was not good enough against Senegal and Ecuador, we know. But we did win the group and we are in the last 16 of the tournament. We will grow into this tournament.”

Even in a bad game, we don’t lose. This Oranje refuses to lose?

“Well yes, that is a quality, but it’s not something we want to lean on. We want to attack and win and we want to play better. The thing is, you also have to deal with the strength of the opponent.”

Did we underestimate Senegal and Ecuador?

“Maybe, these nations play different than we do, or than European nations. I remember we played Ecuador in the run up to the WC2014. We played 1-1, as well. I think the current Ecuador is even better. You never win easily against South American teams. We had a hard time beating Mexico in 2014 remember? We were watching Argentina – Mexico  the other day. And we were looking at each other. They were going at it, but the players are all cool with it. It’s there culture. They know they’re going to get kicked, but that is how they play and think: You’ll feel me today!”

is it possible to enjoy a World Cup as a player?

“Oh yes, we watch the games when we can. We follow the big names of course. We love watching Argentina, Brazil, Spain. I could watch football every night, but we also have our meetings and obligations. We have sessions per line, or individual. What is going well, what needs to improve, that sortathing. Discussing it is as vital as practicing it. It takes time but the talks are key. We need them and sometimes we miss a game as a result. A World Cup for us is more than just playing matches.”

In 2014 you were the Xavi Simons. Young, fearless, impatient. Now you are the leader.

“That is the fun thing of a career, all the different stages, the emotion, the pressure, the learning and now the responsibility. I have always wanted the responsibility. And it makes it extra tough when you can’t play due to injury.”

Do you find opponents play differently when you play or don’t play?

“When Frenkie and I are in sync, there is definitely more fear in the opponent and we can tell by how they talk and coach each other on the pitch. But, I don’t see myself as a real striker. I am more a creator and not a finisher. Like Lewandowski is a really killer. That is not me. By the way, super for him to score his WC goal. He is always leading his country and cool for him to go through.”

Do you learn from other strikers?

“For sure. I am not really a killer but I do watch him and learn from his movement and his positioning. The way he takes a ball first time, yes of course.”

For someone who is not a striker, you are close to being Oranje’s all time top scorer, with 42 goals you’re close to Robin van Persie

“That would be history wouldn’t it, a record like that. I have that ambition yes. And I missed the Euro 2016 and the WC in 2018, imagine that. I started to score a lot of goals under Koeman, before that I didn’t even score that much. Records are there to be broken, but let me stop talking and let me reach that number first. It’s not about me, at the end of the day. We want to achieve something special here and for me, it’s just a matter of doing my bit.”

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