In what will be a repeat of the 2010 World Cup Final, Spain face the Netherlands in their opening Group B game, with the ‘Oranje’ looking to exact revenge for the 1-0 defeat four years ago. After failure at Euro 2012, will the Dutch be able to hold Spain to a draw over 90 minutes again, or steam through the group like they did in qualifying?
FIFA Ranking: 15
Previous World Cups: 1934, 1938, 1974, 1978, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2006, 2010
Best Finish: Runners Up 1974, 1978 & 2010
13/6 Spain, Salvador. 8pm BBC
18/6 Australia, Porto Alegre. 5pm ITV
23/6 Chile, Sao Paulo. 5pm ITV
Perennial World Cup bridesmaids, the Netherlands will be looking to finally go one better with victory in Brazil. Under incoming Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal, the Dutch recovered from failure in their two previous tournaments by blitzing qualification, becoming the first European side to make it to Brazil.
Many of the faces who represented the Netherlands at previous tournaments are now out of the frame, as van Gaal implements more youth into a balanced squad. Top scorer Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben are the stand-out players in a fresher squad, but one that lacks big-game experience. The Dutch will be organised and competitive, but might lack that cutting edge when under pressure against the likes of Spain and Chile. This squad isn’t as full of quality as previous teams in bygone tournaments, but the three spearheads of van Gaal, van Persie and Robben are dangerous opposition.
Top scorer during qualifying, Robin van Persie is raring to get going having missed chunks of the season with injuries. His experience at two World Cups make him a contender for the Golden Boot, and having captained Arsenal, is more than capable of leading from the front. Robben too is always a tricky customer, who had markedly improved during the last four years at Bayern Munich. His motivation will be to settle some old matters, having missed a glorious opportunity in the final four years ago.
Injuries have been cruel to the Netherlands, as both Kevin Strootman and Rafael van der Vaart miss out, further weakening their squad. However, they still have Wesley Sneijder available, a star from South Africa, who has the quality required for the big stage. His seniority in the middle are key to the Netherlands’ chances of progressing beyond the group stages.
Threat to Spain
Revenge is fuelling the Dutch ahead of the crucial Group B opener with Spain, keen to get one over the reigning World Champions and inflict similar pain on them. It could be a game in which those who started the final bring their colleagues up a notch and give Spain some real problems. Aside from that, the finishing from van Persie and Klass Jan Huntelaar could be Spain’s downfall if they do not create enough chances. The Netherlands may only need one opportunity to score whereas Spain will have a tough job breaking down a stubborn backline.
The tactical ingenuity from van Gaal will be intriguing as he’ll want his full-backs bombing forwards on regular occasions. He will want to stifle Spain and make them work, hoping to take anything from the game and then get one over Chile. Like the South Americans, the Dutch are sharp going forwards but culpable in defence. They’ll try to keep it as close as they can, but if Spain can deal with Robben and van Persie they should be fine.
Squad (6 to be cut)
GK: Jasper Cillessen (Ajax), Tim Krul (Newcastle), Michel Vorm (Swansea), Jeroen Zoet (PSV Eindhoven).
DF: Daley Blind, Joel Veltman (both Ajax), Stefan de Vrij, Daryl Janmaat, Terence Kongolo, Bruno Martins Indi, Tonny Vilhena (all Feyenoord), Karim Rekik (PSV Eindhoven – on loan from Manchester City), Patrick van Aanholt (Vitesse Arnhem), Paul Verhaegh (FC Augsburg), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa).
MF: Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Jonathan de Guzman (Swansea), Nigel de Jong (AC Milan), Leroy Fer (Norwich), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV Eindhoven).
FW: Jean-Paul Boetius (Feyenoord), Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke 04), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Quincy Promes (Twente), Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
17/5/14 Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador (van Persie)
5/3/14 France 2-0 Netherlands
19/11/13 Netherlands 0-0 Colombia
Odds to win the tournament: 25/1
Odds to beat Spain: 3/1 (SkyBet)