Call me a shameless chauvinist or a fierce nationalist, but in my eyes, there would surely no other nation would be a more popular World Cup winners than the Netherlands. The tiny country by the North Sea that has produced so many great footballers and has developed such a distinct, wonderful way of playing the game is unfortunately still without a World Cup win.
Since I am Dutch, allow me to speculate the performances of the Dutch national team, a side which has a respectable World Cup record to boast with, reaching two consecutive World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978, but losing both finals to their respective host nations, West Germany and Argentina.
The Dutch are often amongst the crowd favorites, famous for their attractive and attacking style of football. At the peak of its success in the 1970s, the team was famous for its mastery of Total Football and was nicknamed Clockwork Orange for its precision passing.
The current team is less attack-oriented than the famous ‘70s generation, but is currently ranked third in the FIFA World Rankings, so still amongst the better sides in international football.
As always, the stage is pretty much set for a traditional Dutch World Cup display. The team possesses a wonderful array of attacking talent but a slightly suspect defense, so no doubt we get to see wonderful football in the group stage followed by an alarming collapse when things get serious.
I am not writing this article to focus on the Dutch tendency for underachieving or their craving for an aesthetic style of play, but I want to focus on what us Dutchies call the Fabulous Four and the advantages and disadvantages they offer.
The Fabulous Four represent the best attacking talent the Dutch can master. Internazionale’s playmaker Wesley Sneijder, Arsenal’s shadow striker Robin van Persie, Real Madrid’s Kaka stand-in Rafael van der Vaart, and Bayern Munich’s inside forward dash winger Arjen Robben.
Until recently, people were discussing if all of the Fab Four could be shoe-horned into the team simultaneously. It was done before on a single occasion, which instantly produced one of the more memorable moments from recent international football, as the Fab Four put in a blistering performance during the last 33 minutes of the Euro 2008 game against France.
In theory though, you would have a problem on the wings. In the Dutch 4-2-3-1 formation, Van Persie is set as the main forward. Sneijder would play behind Van Persie in the same role he holds at Internazionale, which would leave Robben and Van der Vaart to man the wings.
The problem is that Van der Vaart is a left-footed player and not a real winger. Robben has shown this season he is quite comfortable on the right flank, but Van der Vaart still isn’t an actual winger, which means you are lacking a bit of depth on the left wing, especially since wing-back Giovanni van Bronckhorst isn’t getting any younger and cannot be relied upon to keep moving forward for 90 minutes.
The injury to Arjen Robben during the Netherland’s 6-1 trashing of Hungary means manager Bert van Marwijk shouldn’t have to worry about this luxurious dilemma for a bit though, as Robben is out for at least the game against Denmark and potentially even longer.
Robben’s injury opens up a spot in the starting 11 for Liverpool’s energetic forward Dirk Kuyt, who offers a more disciplined and defensive aware option up front, with Sneijder, Van Persie, and Van der Vaart forming the remaining forwards and Eljero Elia, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and Ryan Babel remaining on the bench.
Kuyt playing on the right wing will offer some much needed defensive stability, with the Dutch defence being a bit shakey against top opposition. Ultimately, Robben’s injury might be a blessing in disguise after all.