Netherlands vs. Italy: 6 Things We Learned from This International Friendly
The Netherlands will be disappointed after drawing with Italy at the Amsterdam ArenA, having dominated the game before finally succumbing to Italian pressure at the death.
Marco Verratti equalised for the Azzurri with a 92nd-minute strike, having battled through from midfield to be set-up by Andrea Pirlo.
It was Jeremain Lens who gave Holland a deserved lead in the first half, capping a fine display from the 25-year-old, who earned his ninth cap for the Oranje.
Unfortunately for the Dutch, they "lost the plot" at the end, to use their manager's words, but overall the game showed positives for both sides and provided some key talking points, which we'll look at now.
Louis Van Gaal Still Has Some Work to Do
Louis Van Gaal and his Italian counterpart both fielded experimental sides for this international friendly, so it would be pointless to look too deeply into the final result.
What was interesting about the game, however, is how both the Dutch and the Italian sides are taking shape as the business end of World Cup qualification draws closer.
Jordy Clasie, Adam Maher and the aforementioned Strootman made up an experimental midfield, with Benfica's Ola John making his debut on the wing and Ajax's Daley Blind making his at full-back.
As is so often the case in football, the scoreline didn't really reflect the game, as the Dutch were the more progressive and attacking team throughout. Avoidable mistakes are to be expected from young players, however, and Van Gaal will be hoping that his coaching—and the return of several senior players—in the coming months will work out the kinks that still appear in the set-up.
If he can pull it off, this Netherlands team will be very exciting indeed.
...And So Does Cesare Prandelli
Cesare Prandelli opted for a new-look 4-3-3 against the Dutch in Amsterdam, fielding a team with a good mix of experience and youth with plenty of talent across the park.
A core of World-Cup winning players is never a bad thing for a team to have, especially when their names are Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Gianluigi Buffon. And when you can pair those seasoned vets up with young talent as exciting as Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy and Marco Verratti, all the better.
The Azzurri struggled with the new formation—they're used to a 4-3-1-2—but showed plenty of promise. The boss says he's exciting to continue his work with Italy, and predicts an "interesting" future. Plenty will agree.
There's Still an Important Place for Wesley Sneijder in the Netherlands Set-Up
Following his protracted break-up with Inter, Wesley Sneijder should be back smiling now. He has a new future at Galatasaray to look forward to and, according to his national coach, an important role in the Oranje squad for World Cup 2014.
The young guns of the Netherlands put on an impressive display against Italy—even if it was not without it's defensive flaws at the end—but senior players will still play a vital part in any realistic challenge in Brazil next year.
"Sneijder has not played football for two months," said the coach, when explaining why he hadn't picked the playmaker.
"However, this doesn't mean he won't be getting called up to the team. Sneijder is my captain, he has earned his place in the side for what he's done in the past." Let's hope we won't be talking about Sneijder's talents in the past tense for too-much longer.
Maarten Stekelenburg Will Be a Very Worried Man
If Maarten Stekelenburg wants to add to his 54 international caps, he'll have to do something to prove himself worthy of a recall, because young Tim Krul looks very comfortable in the Dutch goalkeeper's jersey.
The Newcastle United stopper was extremely confident and composed throughout the tie with Italy, commanding his area very well and excelling under the high ball. Against the likes of Balotelli, he'll have expected to have been given more of a workout in Amsterdam, but in truth he had little to worry about up to Verratti's goal, which he can't solely be blamed for anyway.
Stekelenburg has to hope that Roma's managerial merry-go-round means that he might get another chance for his club soon, because otherwise chances for country will be slim.
Jonathan de Guzman Looks Like He Has a Very Bright Future
He's been impressive on loan at Swansea City, but against Italy Jonathan de Guzman stepped up a notch or two in international standing by making his debut in the Oranje shirt.
De Guzman was comfortable right from the beginning of the second half—he came on as a sub for the classy Jordy Clasie—and will surely feature again soon at this level.
The 25-year-old has plenty of admirers in world football, not least of them his current coach, and a former midfield maestro himself, Michael Laudrup.
"He covers a lot of space and when he starts to run with the ball he keeps the pace, which is very difficult. He scores goals as well and has assists. I am happy, happy for him," said Laudrup.
Born in Ontario to a Jamaican mother and a Filipino father, the midfielder moved to the Netherlands at age 12 to play for Feyenoord and decided to take Dutch citizenship and represent the Netherlands internationally. What Jamaica, the Philippines or Canada would do to have a footballer like him on their side.
Italy Will Need a Plan-B for Balotelli
Mario Balotelli will be a major player for Cesare Prandelli; there's no doubt about that. But on nights like he had in Amsterdam, the coach will need some viable options to replace the young Milan forward.
That's because when he's good, he's exceptional, and when he's not, he's extremely flat and lifeless. He strangely wasted two gilt-edge chances, having been set up by Andrea Pirlo on two occasions, but did little else all game before being changed on the hour mark.
Daniel Pablo Osvaldo—his replacement on the night—offers much, but is too wasteful and tends to blow hot and cold as well. The veteran Alberto Gilardino, who came on for El Shaarawy, has looked like his old self for Bologna this season and if Roma can get him scoring, Mattia Destro will be a force in the future. For now, however, it looks like his club-mate Giampaolo Pazzini is still the best bet to replace an injured or misfiring Balo in the Azzurri shirt.