Why Netherlands Are a Better Bet Than Germany at World Cup 2014
Ah, Netherlands and Germany—something akin to the Montagues and Capulets in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet:" As far as nations being footballing foes, rivalries don't come much more fierce than that between the European pair.
Next summer—barring the most ridiculous set of unforeseen events—the duo will both embark to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.
And the pair will likely represent Europe's greatest hope—outside reigning champions Spain and European Championship finalists Italy—of coming away from South America with the trophy.
Certainly, Germany's performances in recent years have seen them marked as the coming force of European football, with a plethora of outstanding talent available to coach Joachim Loew.
In contrast, following the Netherlands dismal showing at Euro 2012 under Bert van Marwijk, where they lost each of their three group matches, new coach Louis van Gaal has rejuvenated the Dutch setup, mixing fresh ideas with new personnel.
Therefore, here's a look at reasons why Louis van Gaal's Dutch side may just be a better bet than Die Mannschaft to succeed at next summer's tournament:
Renewed Dutch Hope and Clear Strategy
Make no bones about it, Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine was an absolute mess as far as Netherlands were concerned. Three matches, three defeats and a whole host of problems saw an ageing side (and Jetro Willems)—tipped by many to be potential challengers—dumped out at the group stage.
Fast forward to the present day, and things suddenly look a hell of a lot rosier in the Oranje garden.
Revitalised under Louis van Gaal's stewardship, with youth being given its head with the likes of Kevin Strootman, Bruno Martins Indi and Daley Blind, the Dutch are romping towards qualification.
Indeed, van Gaal's mix of young talent and genuine pedigree—the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart remain key—have taken the 2010 World Cup finalists to a run of 11 matches without defeat, during which time they've only conceded four goals.
Additionally, following the pragmatic ways of his predecessor, van Gaal has ditched the 4-2-3-1 formation with a double-pivot featuring two midfield destroyers in favour of the 4-3-3 formation which has long been a staple feature of Dutch football.
Possession football and an adherence to technical dominance is once again being preached, something which certainly hasn't always been the case—witness the 2010 World Cup final or the 2006 quarter-final vs. Portugal—and the Dutch look all the better for it.
Van Gaal, not always the most well-liked coach around, has renewed hope in the Dutch side.
Germany's Defence Doesn't Inspire
Everyone is by now all too aware of the awesome attacking quality Germany possess: Mario Goetze, Marco Reus, Thomas Mueller, Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez to name just five.
However, for all Die Mannschaft's attacking quality, there are more than a few questions surrounding their defence, which has been anything but watertight in recent times. It conceded four vs. both Sweden and United States, three vs. Paraguay and Argentina and two against Ecuador within the last 12 months.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is no doubt outstanding—the Bayern Munich stopper is certainly among the world's best—but in front of him is a defence that is often too lackadaisical, with the chief culprit all too often being Mats Hummels.
Hummels' performance in the semi-final of Euro 2012 when he was bullied by Mario Balotelli and terrorised by the guile of Antonio Cassano highlighted some of his flaws. And he is prone to the occasional leaden-footed moment.
However, the match with Paraguay highlighted some of the positional problems that Hummels has suffered when taken out of his comfort zone at the Westfalenstadion. At club level, he looks consistently excellent, in full knowledge of where he should be at all times. On the international scene, the difference is palpable, and he is nowhere near as imposing nor certain.
Philipp Lahm remains first choice in one of the full-back positions, but Loew still doesn't have a nailed on partner for Hummels—is it Jerome Boateng or Per Mertesacker?—nor has he made a certain decision over who plays opposite Lahm. Marcel Schmelzer, Benedikt Howedes and even Boateng have all been used in either full-back role over the last 12 months.
Spain's domination of the international scene in recent times has been based around a magnificent way to both keep possession and not concede needlessly. The latter is a habit which Loew's team has yet to address.
Fear Can Inhibit
The beauty of young footballers thrown in as a collective is that they know no fear.
For the vast majority of Louis van Gaal's squad next year, the World Cup will be an all new experience. As such, the following quote from Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers via Kopleft.com is somewhat fitting:
I believe a young player will run through a barbed wire fence for you. An older player looks for a hole in the fence, he’ll try and get his way through it some way, but the young player will fight for you.
Thus, whilst you may see innocuous mistakes due to inexperience, there is very much a lack of fear about making mistakes—which can benefit the more experienced players in the side also. And therefore, there's sometimes a greater overall level of performance.
Contrast the young Dutch squad, thus far perfect in qualifying for next summer's competition, with its German counterparts, who are infinitely more experienced and have memories of going close at major competitions in the last few years. At odds with the fearlessness of youth comes the knowledge that goes with experience and the knowledge of what it feels like to lose.
Thus, you don't want to lose again, and you therefore fear making mistakes. And once you play with fear, as a rule, your performance will become inhibited. Loew and his side have a bounty of experience where getting close but not quite being good enough to get the job done is concerned.
In Brazil next summer, such experiences could work very much against Die Mannschaft.
Louis van Gaal over Joachim Loew
As far as their respective managerial records, it really isn't much of a contest.
Van Gaal has proven himself successful around Europe and has won major trophies whilst becoming renowned for his tactical acumen as well as his personality.
Certainly he is by no means perfect, and he failed during his first spell as coach of the Oranje. But these past 12 months have shown that he more than learned from that ill-fated stint in charge on the back of a good period at AZ Alkmaar and an (initially) successful spell at Bayern Munich.
Loew's club career took in the likes of Austria Vienna, Adanaspor and Wacker Innsbruck, but he has done a very good job since becoming Germany's boss in 2006 following a spell as Juergen Klinsmann's assistant.
Subsequently, he led Die Mannschaft to the Euro 2008 final and the semi-final stage at both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. On paper, his international record is one to envy—unless your name's Vicente Del Bosque.
However, here's the rub.
In each of the last three major tournaments of matches Germany played and won, did you ever think there was any doubt that they would win those matches? Perhaps Argentina in 2010, but then you remember that Diego Maradona was the Albiceleste manager and just how unbalanced that team was.
It was in the Group of Death at last year's European Championships, but it was expected to win the group—and as credit to Loew, it subsequently did.
Thus, a perception of Loew is that he is merely there as a figurehead, much like Klinsmann (who seemingly led by personality alone) before. He picks the team and makes the decisions with his technical staff, but does he have the managerial nous to get the better of a rival when matches delve into more tactical affairs?
Indeed, Loew failed on such a score in the Euro 2012 semi-final when Cesare Prandelli got the better of him. Germany were heavily fancied to see off Italy, but Loew's decision to move Mesut Ozil to the wing and include Toni Kroos in his lineup backfired.
Certainly this Germany side can blow opponents away; it has proven that plenty in recent times. However, in tight, edgy encounters, does Loew have enough to guide his team through?
In the end it comes down to personal preference, as many choices do. But in the battle between the two managers, I'd take the madness of King Louis time and again.
The Favourites Don't Always Win
The World Cup is a cup competition. And like many cup competitions, the favourites don't always emerge victorious.
Luck of the draw—think Argentina in 2002—can derail a side every bit as much as buckling under the weight of expectations when the tournament kicks off (a la Colombia in 1994). History is littered with the undervalued coming through and winning a cup competition: Greece (Euro 2004), Chelsea (Champions League 2012), Italy (World Cup 2006) to name but three.
Thus, it's often worth checking the odds and figuring out your confidence levels in judging a side's success.
In contrast, van Gaal's Dutch team is listed seventh with the majority of bookmakers at four times the price of its German counterparts.
Seemingly the memory of the Oranje's abject showings at last summer's European Championships—not so much their showings at the 2010 World Cup where they reached the final—are fresh in the mind of bookmakers. They're typically available at around 20-1.
And, given the improvements under van Gaal and the vast overhaul of the Dutch national pool in the last 12 months—not to mention some of Germany's own difficulties during that time—are Die Mannschaft really four times more likely than their rivals to lift the World Cup crown in the Maracana next summer?
In that respect, I'm not so certain Joachim Loew's side represents terrific value, particularly in the face of Louis van Gaal's new-look Dutch outfit.
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