Total success with caution (

High flyers: Denzel Dumfries’ assists and goal propelled the Netherlands through to the Quarters.

Photo: IMAGO / MexSport Agency

When asked how proud he was of goalscorer and two-time assist provider Denzel Dumfries, the Bonds coach came up with a non-verbal reply that came across as one of those typical Louis van Gaal moments. The coach of the Netherlands national team leaned over to his player of the match on the podium of the press conference and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then van Gaal and Denzel Dumfries laughed as did their audience.

From the Dutch point of view, there is a lot of reason to be in a good mood. After beating the USA 3-1 (2-0) on Saturday in the first knockout round of the World Cup, they are getting closer to their goal of holding the trophy for officially the world’s best soccer country selection on December 18th. Three wins are still missing. “I think we have a great chance here,” said van Gaal about his team’s title prospects after they reached the quarter-finals against Argentina on Friday.

After the presentation against the USA, in addition to arguments against the first World Cup title for the Netherlands, there are also some reasons why at the end of this tournament it could be: Oranje boven, Oranje top. And that’s precisely because van Gaal’s team doesn’t play thrilling football, but a safety style trimmed for results. “Football can be cruel,” said US coach Gregg Berhalter. Little things would have decided the game: “If you look at the difference between the two teams, then it was the offensive finishing quality of the Dutch that we missed.”

In the round of 16, van Gaal’s side appeared to be much more mature than that of the upcoming World Cup hosts, who started with the youngest starting XI of all 32 tournament teams. Holland was only in trouble for a short time after Haji Wright had scored for the US boys to make it 2-1 (76th). But otherwise it was more like it used to be in training, when old played against young and the impetuous young once again didn’t stand a chance against the clever old ones. Memphis Depay (10th) and Daley Blind (45th + 1) had scored despite optical inferiority for the 2-0 break lead, Dumfries finally ended the rebellion of the Americans five minutes after Wright’s goal with his 3: 1.

Afterwards, van Gaal was even allowed to rave about “beautiful goals”. “One of the goals was a real team goal,” he said. What was meant was the 1-0, in which the Dutch had literally dissected the US defense with 20 low passes over the entire field. It was a perfect attacking move, the most beautifully executed goal of this World Cup.

The beauty of the attack contrasted with previous perceptions of the Oranje selection. Before the game from home, Van Gaal had to resist criticism of the style again. The accusation was that his team played boringly, defensively and not handsomely. This is also due to the fact that the ideal image of the old Ajax school with the 4-3-3 system is still just as deeply anchored in national football consciousness as the Voetbal totaal practiced by Amsterdam and the national team in the 1970s, among others. So that flexible offensive style in which all players participated.

In fact, they are far from that in the current Oranje selection. Instead of an offensive orientation, the team shows a reserved style of play that is designed for safety. On the ball, van Gaal’s Elftal re-formed in a 5-3-2 formation against the USA. She had less possession than her opponent and fewer shots on goal. The style of play could be described as total caution. Not much is left of the old ideals.

Van Gaal formulated a reply to the criticism in which he countered his experience. At Ajax, it used to be all about attacking, said the 71-year-old, but “over the years you think about the game and see the risks in attacking.” He came to the conclusion that the following applies to a World Cup: ” It’s less about the offensive and more about winning.« Van Gaal has dedicated himself to pragmatism, and with this style of play his Elftal has been so successful at the World Cup that the criticism can be endured. Since he began his third term as Bonds coach in 2021, the team has not lost in their 19 games. If he has his way, the streak should last at least three more games.

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