Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal praised his squad for bouncing back from their UEFA EURO 2012 disappointment to claim FIFA World Cup qualification with two matches to spare.
Two Robin van Persie goals sealed a 2-0 win in Andorra last night, which coupled with Romania's home loss to Turkey left the Netherlands unassailable in Group D. Van Gaal, who succeeded Bert van Maarwijk for a second spell at the helm following the group stage departure in Ukraine, is delighted with how his side have put that behind them, Friday's 2-2 draw in Estonia the only points they have dropped in this campaign.
"We have to look back at the past," Van Gaal said. "After the EURO tournament I had to pick up the squad and create a squad with young players. That is always difficult, certainly as it was not a good EURO tournament, which meant I had to deal with disappointed players. When you are then the first team in Europe to qualify with a +20 goal difference then you have done very well."
Only four of the players that appeared in the 2-1 defeat by Portugal in Kharkiv that ended their 2012 campaign – Wesley Sneijder, Ron Vlaar, Jetro Willems and Van Persie – faced Andorra, though Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart are also normally involved. Van Gaal has included fresh faces during qualifying with the likes of Michel Vorm, Daryl Janmaat, Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi, Stijn Schaars, Ruben Schaken, Adam Maher, Kevin Strootman and Jeremain Lens.
"The World Cup still has to start and we need to perform there and not go out in the first round," Van Gaal said. "This is just the beginning. I am building with a very young team combined with some older players. Of course our game play can be better, but that will be all right."
Van Persie has been reproducing his prolific form for Manchester United FC for the Netherlands, not least against Andorra, where his strikes took him level with Edin Džeko as qualifying top scorer on eight goals. "It was pretty tough, but luckily I scored two fast goals in the second half," Van Persie said. "Then the job was finished."
That double took his international tally to 38 goals from 79 caps, two short of the record held by one of Van Gaal's coaching team, Patrick Kluivert. "He really is a great help for me," said Van Persie. "We talk a lot with each other, for instance if I should move to the front or back post. I then think about that and try to bring it into practice."
One of the squad that reached the 2010 World Cup final, Van Persie added: "We have qualified now, and that is step one. Now we can calmly work towards the World Cup. To stand a chance there, everybody has to be fit and everyone has to work really hard for each other. And I am not talking about 11 players but all 23."
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