The Netherlands have begun their preparations for next month’s FIFA World Cup with a 1-1 draw against Ecuador in Amsterdam ArenA.
Manager Louis van Gaal opted for a relatively unfamiliar starting XI, with Robin van Persie being the only player not plying his trade in the Eredivisie—although it is worth noting that several stars, including key winger Arjen Robben, were absent due to club commitments.
Nevertheless, the Amsterdam crowd would have expected a much better start from their side.
It took just nine minutes for the South Americans to take the lead, as striker Jefferson Montero latched on to a perfectly weighted pass by Felipe Caicedo before coolly converting past the helpless Jasper Cillessen.
Unfortunately, though, Caicedo had to leave the field injured just after the half-hour mark, and the 25-year-old’s World Cup dreams could now be in serious jeopardy. Meanwhile, Dutch defender Daryl Janmaat also went off after sustaining an ankle injury toward the end of the first half.
In the buildup to this game, much of the talk had surrounded the future of manager van Gaal. The 62-year-old has already announced that he will be stepping down from the national role, to be replaced by Guus Hiddink after the World Cup, and has been strongly linked to the vacant Manchester United role—as per Jamie Jackson of the Guardian.
When the Dutch equaliser came on 37 minutes, it inevitably came from Manchester United star Robin van Persie. The 30-year-old skillfully controlled Jordy Clasie’s floating cross before crashing a trademark left-footed volley to bring the scores level heading into half-time.
While neither team could produce a winner after the interval it was the Netherlands—who had deployed a new 5-3-2 formation, which is widely believed to be van Gaal’s preference for Brazil—who created the better chances. A season-ending injury to key midfielder Kevin Strootman is one of the chief reasons behind the change in tactics.
In fact, van Persie will have been disappointed not to double his personal tally after connecting poorly with a definite chance on the hour mark.
Toward the closing stages, both teams appeared quite content with a share of the spoils in Amsterdam—particularly after van Persie had been replaced 10 minutes from time.
The draw signals a promising start for both teams, and the inexperienced Dutch team won’t be too disappointed with their performance against a very capable Ecuador side, who finished above Uruguay in the Conmebol qualification process.
Nonetheless, Netherlands will need to improve drastically if they are going to challenge Group B rivals Spain on June 13. However, come the tournament, they will, of course, have the returning talents of Wesley Sneijder and Robben to help boost their chances.
Netherlands commence their World Cup preparations with a friendly against Ghana in Rotterdam on May 31.
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