|By Sanjib Guha|
Lionel Messi’s slices of brilliance, Neymar’s reaction to Cameroon’s petty tactics to demolish them or Miroslav Klose’s record equaling goal-scoring feat may have been some delightful moments for football aficionados over the past 10 days or so. But as a team, Brazil, Argentina and Germany looked a bit rusty.
The country which boasts of producing players like Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Dennis Bergkamp, Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard et al has finished runners-up (1974, 1978, 2010) on three occasions and finished fourth in 1998.With the kind of form the side is in, it won’t be a fluke if they get fourth time lucky.
Louis van Gaal’s boys couldn’t have asked for a better start.
The attitude they showed in the opener only got bolder as the tournament progressed.
Despite the Dutchmen’s supreme show what is intriguing is their unique brand of football where the ‘ball possession’ aspect has completely taken a backseat. Van Gaal’s strategy – combining speed with extra-ordinary talent at his possession that increases chances of conversion – has worked wonders for the team which could have had its name on the World Cup winners’ list long back.
As far as match statistics are concerned, Van Persie-Arjen Robben’s bunch only had 43 percent of ball possession in the first match against Spain, but they won the battle in speed and conversion rate.
It was slightly different for the Oranje when they took on Australia. The spirited pushovers not only stretched Gaal’s side some distance, they made them gasping for breath until Memphis Depay came to rescue with the winner.
On the brighter side though, The Netherlands’ conversion rate was fair enough to see them through, thanks to Van Persie, Robben and Memphis.
In the last group league tie versus Chile too, they concentrated more on speed and conversion rate. With Van Persie out for double booking, they just wanted to ensure and victory and never tried anything outrageous. They had eight on-target attempts, of which they scored twice as compared to the opponents’ one futile attempt.
This time, the ball possession for the Dutch was as low as 36 percent.
By the way, Gaal’s side faces Mexico in the last 16.
It promises to be a mouth-watering contest as speed and finesse are expected to rule on Sunday, June 29.
Realistically, with three former champions – Italy, Spain and England out, Van Persie’s team will have lesser challenges to overcome en route to the title in 2014.