Netherlands enter the 2014 World Cup without the same burden of outside pressure as it dealt with at each of the past two editions of the international event. Instead of being viewed as one of the top contenders, it's among the secondary group of tournament hopefuls.
One of the main reasons for the that drop in overall expectations is the Oranje's group. They were slotted alongside the reigning champions from Spain as well as Chile and Australia in Group B. It will make for a very tricky journey through the group stage.
The Dutch squad still features more than enough talent to make a deep run, though. Let's check out the final 23-man roster selected by manager Louis van Gaal, who will take over at Manchester United following the event, along with a projection for the starting lineup.
Netherlands' World Cup Roster
|GK||Michel Vorm||Swansea City|
|GK||Tim Krul||Newcastle United|
|DF||Ron Vlaar||Aston Villa|
|DF||Bruno Martins Indi||Feyenoord|
|DF||Stefan de Vrij||Feyenoord|
|MF||Nigel de Jong||Milan|
|MF||Jonathan de Guzman||Swansea City|
|MF||Leroy Fer||Norwich City|
|MF||Georginio Wijnaldum||PSV Eindhoven|
|FW||Robin van Persie||Manchester United|
|FW||Arjen Robben||Bayern Munich|
|FW||Klaas-Jan Huntelaar||Schalke 04|
|FW||Jeremain Lens||Dynamo Kiev|
|FW||Memphis Depay||PSV Eindhoven|
Starting XI Projection
|CB||Stefan de Vrij|
|CB||Bruno Martins Indi|
|MF||Nigel de Jong|
|FW||Robin van Persie|
Projection; 5-3-2 Formation
The Dutch lineup took a hit back in March when rising star Kevin Strootman was forced to undergo surgery for a knee injury. Not only did the side lose one of its most potent attacking weapons, but it forced Van Gaal to reconsider his formation.
Instead of going with an aggressive 4-3-3 to highlight the squad's offensive depth, the head coach has leaned more than a 5-3-2 during the build up to the World Cup. So the starting lineup projection is based on him sticking with that approach.
The good news for Van Gaal is that he'll have a healthy Robin van Persie to lead the attack. The forward dealt with some injury woes throughout the club campaign, but was able to recover in time for summer international duty.
ESPN passed along comments from him before the warm-up friendlies about his return to full strength:
I'm feeling good. Mentally I'm fresh. If you play a full season you can be a little bit tired at the end of the season. But I'm fresh, the knee is fine as well so I'm looking forward to it.
I'm 100%. It's just that I need a full game now. We have three friendlies to play [and] my last game against Southampton [for United] was 67 minutes so hopefully I can play a bit more.
Van Persie will headline a lineup that's got experience up front, but plenty of youth at the back, which likely played a role in the switch to a 5-3-2.
How far will the Dutch advance in the World Cup?
Michel Vorm is the most experienced international goalkeeper on the squad with just 14 appearances. He could get the starting nod based on being the veteran of the group, but based on club form Jasper Cillessen deserves to get the call.
The defensive decisions are important because players will be forced to adapt to new roles, even if they have played with the national team previously. Ron Vlaar should serve as the anchor in the center of defense with Feyenoord teammates Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij joining him in the middle.
On the outside, the Netherlands is going to want players capable of pushing forward to help the attack since it has one less player than usual. That's why Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind get the nod.
Ultimately, the defensive group will need to step up in a major way if the Oranje are going to make a deep run. Paul Carr of ESPN provided an interesting stat they will try to eliminate in Brazil:
22 days to the World Cup. Netherlands has won 22 World Cup matches, most of any country without a title.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) May 21, 2014
The biggest question when it comes to the midfield is exactly how aggressive Van Gaal wants to be. Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder can provide flair in attack, but the manager must choose his other options wisely due to the absence of Rafael van der Vaart.
Finally, the front line will likely pair Van Persie with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The Dutch could also move Robben into a forward role to create another spot in the midfield. But Huntelaar has done enough to continue being a starter despite the formation change.
All told, Netherlands faces a very difficult road to the business end of the tournament. It must just focus on getting out of the group stage, which isn't a guarantee since the roster isn't as deep as four years ago when it made the final.
For the Dutch to make a run, they need the stars to shine very brightly all tournament. Anything other than elite form from the likes of Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder will likely lead to an early exit. And that would be a major disappointment after their success in 2010.