Well, it turns out Holland's new 5-3-2 formation suits them quite nicely.
Sturdy in defense and dangerous on the attack, the Dutch never seemed particularly threatened by Ghana, defeating the African side, 1-0, behind Robin van Persie's first-half strike.
Manager Louis van Gaal has decided to tinker with the Dutch formation in the lead-up to the World Cup, and the early returns are promising. Before the match, midfielder Wesley Sneijder talked about his excitement for the new formation, via Sky Sports:
I feel that it is good, both in possession and without possession of the ball.
Within a week I have seen a lot of progress. I'm really curious to see how we are going to play against Ghana. We can not expect 100 per cent perfection, so it still will not be all rosy.
But ultimately it is the first (World Cup) match against Spain soon and then we must be ready.
Things certainly seemed pretty rosy against Ghana.
It took the Dutch just under five minutes to open the scoring. Sneijder played a pass to Arjen Roben on the edge of the box, who calmly slid the ball through the defense and back to a streaking Sneijder on the left side of the box. The attacking midfielder beat Adam Kwarasey to the ball and slid a pass to Van Persie, who had a wide open net to shoot into.
It was Dutch football at its best, and an early 1-0 lead.
Minutes later, the Netherlands should have doubled their lead. Daley Blind made a run down the left flank and played a sumptuous low cross into the box that found Robben's foot, but he shockingly deflected the ball over the net. It was the definition of a sitter and one Robben surely wanted a second crack at.
Squawka Football captured the shocking miss:
Oh dear... Arjen Robben may well be one of the best players in the world but Fernando Torres would have scored this: https://t.co/MqfzMBAbjQ— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 31, 2014
Robben had another brilliant chance to score in the 24th minute. With acres of space in the midfield to exploit, Sneijder played a lovely ball through the middle of the pitch to Robben, who was all alone in the box. But his first touch took him too close to goal and his attempted chip was deflected by the rushing Kwarasey, who gamely bailed out his defense.
In fitting fashion, Robben had the last chance of the half, as he ripped a shot toward goal from the edge of the box in stoppage time. But Kwarasey was again up to the task, extending and pushing the ball away from danger.
And of course, it was Robben who had the first chance in the second half. After making a strong run, he was fouled on the outside of the box and lined up to take the free kick. His spinning, dipping effort flew over the bar, however.
Ghana had a greater share of possession in the second half, though the Dutch continuously posed a threat on the counter, exposing Ghana's overmatched back four. Time and time again, Van Persie, Sneijder and Robben had space to work with, and Robben seemed to have chance after chance.
In the 78th minute, he streaked down the left side of the pitch and let fly with a searing strike. Kwarasey was game again, though, punching the ball free of danger.
The new formation should bode well for the Dutch. It offers players like Van Persie and Robben the freedom to roam around the pitch and find open spaces to work, which both players favor.
The Dutch easily could have had several goals in this one, and they looked quite compact and sturdy both in the midfield and in defense. With the team's top midfielder, Kevin Strootman, missing the World Cup due to a knee injury, the formation makes plenty of sense.
For Ghana, the defense will be a major worry with the dangerous attackers of Portugal and Germany looming. The Dutch attackers had no issues running behind the back four, while the midfield looked stretched and allowed huge pocket of spaces for the Netherlands to exploit.
Worse, defender Jerry Akaminko had to be stretchered off the pitch in the second-half stoppage time. From Fox Soccer Trax:
Akaminko is down with an apparent left ankle injury in stoppage time at Rotterdam; the Ghana defender landed awkwardly— FOX Soccer Trax (@FOXSoccerTrax) May 31, 2014
That looked bad - Akaminko came down and his left leg got caught under him; it turned over badly and he is carried off in 94th minute— FOX Soccer Trax (@FOXSoccerTrax) May 31, 2014
It wasn't all bad for Ghana, but it certainly left them with plenty to address heading to Brazil.
|CB||Bruno Martins Indi||B+|
|CB||Stefan de Vrij||A|
|CM||Nigel de Jong||B+|
|CM||Wesley Sneijder (Off 82')||A|
|CM||Jonathan de Guzman||B+|
|F||Robin van Persie (Off 74')||A|
|F||Memphis Depay (On 74')||B|
|MF||Jeremain Lens (On 82')||B|
|LB||Jeffrey Schlupp (Off 69')||D+|
|CB||Jerry Akaminko (Off 90')||D+|
|CDM||Michael Essien (Off 45')||C|
|CDM||Mohammed Rabiu (Off 63')||C|
|CAM||Christian Atsu (Off 45')||C|
|F||Jordan Ayew (Off 56')||C|
|MF||Kevin-Prince Boateng (On 45')||B-|
|MF||Afriyie Acquah (On 45')||B|
|MF||Majeed Waris (On 56')||C+|
|MF||Andre Ayew (On 63')||B|
|LB||Harrison Afful (On 69')||C+|
|CB||Jonathan Mensah (On 90')||C|
Man of the Match: Arjen Robben, Netherlands
Robben asserted his force in this one and continued to threaten throughout the match. His runs and movement were excellent, his pass to Sneijder in the first half played a huge role in Holland's goal and he probably should have had a brace, if not a hat trick in this game.
Yes, the finishing left a bit to be desired. But ask the Ghana midfielders who they've been having nightmares about in a few days, and they'll say Robben.
Honestly, you could make a case to put any of the Dutch starting 11 here. Blind and Daryl Janmaat played quite well in their wing-back roles, while Stefan de Vrij led a strong showing from the three central defenders. Ghana rarely offered a huge threat, but the Dutch took the sting out of their attack when the African side did press forward.
The Dutch will face Wales on Wednesday in their final World Cup tuneup, while Ghana will face South Korea on June 9. After that, it's time for the World Cup. The Dutch are in Group B, which also features Spain, Chile and Australia, while Ghana is in Group G with the United States, Germany and Portugal.
In other words, it's a "Group of Death" for both countries.