Always a bridesmaid, never the bride – that is the tale of the Netherlands’ World Cup history to this point. Three finals have been reached – in 1974, 1978 and 2010 – but getting over the line has proved to be an impossible task.
They are, however, always competitive in tournament play and will consider themselves to be serious contenders again for global glory if they adjust quickly to South American conditions and build early momentum through a difficult group. Louis van Gaal is the man charged with the task of making history, with a familiar face turned to in an hour of need.
He guided the Oranje to a near faultless run through their qualification campaign, with no side in the European section able to better their 28-point haul. Nine victories and one draw delivered 34 goals, while a watertight defensive unit was breached on only five occasions. Results since booking a place in Brazil have been far from inspiring, but recent history suggests that the Netherlands tend to save their best for competitive fixtures – which is no bad thing.
Netherlands’ Group B fixtures
1. Friday June 13: Spain vs Netherlands – Salvador (20.00)
2. Wednesday June 18: Australia vs Netherlands – Porto Alegre (17.00)
3. Monday June 23: Netherlands vs Chile – Sao Paulo (17.00)
Coach: Louis van Gaal
Back for a second spell in charge of the Dutch national side, but looking to oversee events at his first major international tournament. His first stint at the helm began in the wake of a successful showing at Euro 2000, but ended rather abruptly after opening a forgettable campaign which saw the Netherlands fail to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. It is fair to say that setback has done his employment prospects little harm as he has since gone on to boss Barcelona and Bayern Munich and will return to club management at Manchester United once his World Cup quest is over.
Star man: Robin van Persie
If fit and firing, Van Persie has the ability to set Brazil alight. A proven goalscorer at the very highest level, international honours would sit nicely alongside his domestic achievements. This will be his third World Cup finals appearance and he will be all too aware that he is yet to show his true colours on the grandest of stages. He managed just the one goal in 2006, and added only a solitary strike to that tally in 2010 despite the Netherlands making impressive progress through the tournament. There should be no excuses for Van Persie this time around as an injury-disrupted campaign at Manchester United will have him heading into a major tournament feeling fresh. With the likes of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder providing the ammunition, this could be the tournament in which the Netherlands flourish in the final third.
Tournament best: Runners-up 1974, 1978, 2010
Goalkeepers: Jasper Cillessen (Ajax), Tim Krul (Newcastle United), Michel Vorm (Swansea City)
Defenders: Daley Blind (Ajax), Stefan de Vrij (Feyenoord), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord), Terence Kongolo (Feyenoord), Bruno Martins Indi (Feyenoord), Paul Verhaegh (Augsburg), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa), Joel Veltman (Ajax)
Midfielders: Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord Rotterdam), Jonathan de Guzman (Swansea City), Nigel de Jong (AC Milan), Leroy Fer (Norwich City), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV Eindhoven)
Forwards: Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
British based players: Tim Krul (Newcastle United), Michel Vorm (Swansea City), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa), Leroy Fer (Norwich City), Jonathan de Guzman (Swansea City) and Robin van Persie (Manchester United).
Holland are 25/1 outsiders to win the World Cup and 20/1 to repeat their feat of four years ago by being runners-up. Although they’ve been pitted in a tough group, they are odds-on (8/13) to qualify for the knock-out stages and 11/4 to win Group B.
Unsurprisingly, Robin van Persie is considered Holland’s best hope of landing the Golden Boot – he’s 25/1 to top the charts and 80/1 to be the top scorer in a first World Cup triumph for his country. South Africa was the third time Holland were beaten finalists, and it’s also 80/1 for Spain to beat Louis van Gaal’s side in the decider once again.