1934, 1938, 1974, 1978, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010.
Action Images / ReutersJERRY LAMPEN
Key player: Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
Dutch soccer’s one-time problem child is now one of the world’s foremost strikers. But throughout his career, he has been beset by injury trouble, and this past season has been no different. But the Dutch need the 30-year-old’s clever runs and clinical finishing up front, or else they’re doomed.
Action ImagesSteven Paston
The Dutch are said to be the best team to never have won the World Cup. Three lost finals suggest as much. They lost to home countries West Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978 -- reportedly beset by a skinny-dipping scandal and intimidation from the new Videla regime, respectively -- but revolutionized soccer with their fast-moving, positional interchanging Total Football nonetheless. In 2010, a much more dour Dutch team lost to Spain, who, ironically, played a descendent of Total Football.
Following a group stage flame-out at Euro 2012 by nearly the exact same team that had been to the World Cup final, the Dutch federation decided to revert back to the mean and install Louis van Gaal. He has brought them back to their Total Football origins and the soccer certainly has grown more attractive. But van Gaal, who is famously disinclined to enter into dialogue or tolerate any challenges to his system or thinking, prefers to play with young players. And so in the last year alone, he has called in 33 players with fewer than 10 international caps. The vast majority of the player pool is in its early 20s. That has created a side that still revolves around the old stalwarts van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, but is filled out with inexperienced players. With a defense rebuilt from scratch and largely untested internationally, and box-to-box sensation Kevin Strootman out with an injury, this team has much left to prove.
Action Images / ReutersMICHAEL KOOREN
How they got here
Since re-taking the reins, van Gaal, who had infamously overseen the failed Dutch qualification for the 2002 World Cup, has instigated a youth movement and brought back the width and pressure of the Dutch school. To great effect, since Oranje was almost perfect in a fairly weak qualifying group, winning nine and drawing one of ten games with a goal difference of +29.
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Brutal. Painfully, the Dutch will have to face the Spanish in their opening game of Group B, the very team that beat them in their last World Cup game, the final in 2010. They’ll face Australia next, who shouldn’t present serious problems. But the last match, against Chile, almost certainly will. It’s far from a given that the Dutch will advance.
Getty ImagesBuda Mendes
Round of 16 prospects
Tricky. Group B crosses over with Group A, which consists of Brazil, Croatia, Cameroon and Mexico. That means there’s a good chance the Dutch would face the host country Brazil in the round of 16 – a rematch of the 2010 quarterfinals. Any other opponent would give them a better chance.
Action ImagesScott Heavey
The Netherlands comes into this tournament as a bit of question mark. Certainly, the impression left in qualifying was unambiguous, but then this side may not yet be equipped to handle itself on the world stage. For this is a very young team -- especially in the back -- with just a few veterans like van Persie, Robben and Sneijder blended in. Expecting them to reach further than the round of 16 or so this time around might be too much to ask.