And they continue to fall: The 2014 FIFA World Cup lost another potential star on Wednesday when it was confirmed that Netherlands midfielder Rafael van der Vaart would miss the tournament due to a calf injury.
As confirmed by BBC Sport, Van der Vaart picked up a calf injury in training with his national side, which will see him miss the entire World Cup. Netherlands will name their final 23-man squad on Saturday, May 31.
No World Cup for Rafael Van der Vaart. Wraps up terrible year for the midfielder.— Dutch Football (@football_oranje) May 28, 2014
While the Hamburg midfielder might only have been looking at playing a supporting role for Wesley Sneijder once the tournament got underway, the loss of the experienced Van der Vaart means Louis van Gaal's side is almost going to be relying on the starters to aid their progress through the entire tournament.
Whether in the 4-3-3 or 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 systems, Sneijder tends to be utilised as the attacking midfielder, central behind the forwards.
His experience and technical qualities are of course vital for the Dutch side, but no longer at the peak of his powers, he perhaps cannot be relied to produce the same number of match-winning moments as he did last time out, powering the nation past the likes of Brazil en route to the final in 2010.
Van der Vaart was the natural replacement for Sneijder, bringing a wealth of experience—his total of 109 caps was easily the highest in the squad—and no shortage of talent or big-game know-how.
The Hamburg man's absence adds to that of central midfielder Kevin Strootman, with the AS Roma midfielder out since early March with a knee injury.
Van Gaal has options to choose from, of course, to take Van der Vaart's place as a creative option from the bench—but none with any measure of experience at this level of the game. Daley Blind, Jonathan de Guzman, Memphis Depay, Leroy Fer, Georginio Wijnaldum and Tonny Vilhena are all in the provisional squad, but none even have a dozen caps to their name. Only de Guzman and Blind, in fact, have more than five.
All told, Netherlands are left with a depleted squad with regards to those who can affect the game into the final third. The reliance will be on Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie—who has barely played since late March—along with Sneijder, to create and take plenty of chances.
Beyond those three, it is all about youth and inexperience, and essentially hoping they can cope with the environment of the World Cup.
Van der Vaart's injury might not affect Van Gaal's starting XI, but his squad lacks depth and will certainly be affected in a big way by the loss of the former Spurs man, along with that of Strootman.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!