Were expectations met?
By finishing third in Brazil, expectations were not so much met as exceeded. After the Netherlands failed to pick up a point under Bert van Marwijk at UEFA EURO 2012, Louis van Gaal returned and started to mould a team of old heads and promising youngsters, changing the system from 4-3-3 to 5-3-2.
The Oranje, unbeaten in qualifying, caused shock waves by putting five past world champions Spain in their tournament opener, and topped a testing group with maximum points after victories over Australia and Chile. However, the goals dried up in the knockout phase, where Van Gaal's men scored just twice in 330 minutes against Mexico, Costa Rica and Argentina, who dashed their hopes of reaching a second successive final. A 3-0 defeat of the hosts, however, ensured third place.
Group B: Spain 1-5 Netherlands
Group B: Australia 2-3 Netherlands
Group B: Netherlands 2-0 Chile
Round of 16: Netherlands 2-1 Mexico
Quarter-finals: Netherlands 0-0 Costa Rica (Netherlands win 4-3 on penalties)
Semi-finals: Netherlands 0-0 Argentina (Argentina win 4-2 on penalties)
Third/fourth-place play-off: Brazil 0-3 Netherlands
What the media say
Former Netherlands midfielder Willem van Hanegem in Algemeen Dagblad: "We narrowly missed out on the final. Everyone was afraid of losing in a poor semi-final. I can understand that, but what does it matter? I am very proud of this Netherlands team. To get that far at a World Cup ... It was not always my kind of football, but you also need to encounter opponents that want to play."
Trouw: "The Oranje were a close team at the World Cup in Brazil. After his last match as national team coach, Van Gaal can reflect on a good tournament. The new Manchester United FC coach had his team perform above capacity. Also striking was the fact that four of the Netherlands' seven matches were decided by substitutes."
What they say
Louis van Gaal: "The team delivered a fantastic performance. People did not expect us to reach the second stage. This is the best squad I have ever trained – not in terms of footballing quality but with regard to qualities as human beings, players and sportsmen. It is not always easy to achieve that, to get everyone pulling in the same direction, but they did. Of course, we could have played better at times, but everyone, the starters and the reserves, all showed the true value of sport."
Wesley Sneijder: "I have a feeling there was more in it [for us] than third place, but I am super proud of the team. We had a fantastic group, everything was right, a good mix of experience and young lads. This was also Van Gaal's tournament. He had a plan and it worked out fantastic. With a bit of luck we could have made it to the final."
Van Gaal selected seven players who last year helped the Netherlands to the semi-finals of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Israel: Daley Blind, Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij, Jordy Clasie, Leroy Fer, Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay. The septet blended well with old heads like Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, immediately showing they had no fear of performing on the biggest stage of all. Van Gaal used all 23 players, with substitutes Depay, Fer, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Tim Krul, who saved two spot kicks against Costa Rica moments after being introduced in the last seconds of extra time, making important contributions.
Room for improvement
"We do not have the best team, but we are a team that is hard to beat," Van Gaal said more than once. Indeed, the Netherlands did not lose in normal or extra time, but after registering 12 goals combined against Spain, Australia, Chile and Mexico, they did not hit the back of the net again (until the Brazil match). Producing an aesthetically pleasing style that continues to yield results will be high on returning coach Guus Hiddink's list.
Portuguese-born defender Martins Indi, 22, excelled in his six outings as the left-sided centre-back. "It is a sign of how much faith Louis van Gaal has in me," said Martins Indi. "Sometimes I take a little risk with my playing style, but I read the game and know when and how to pass the ball. Van Gaal recognises that."
The Netherlands begin their UEFA EURO 2016 campaign in the Czech Republic on 9 September. The Dutch are in Group A, alongside Turkey, Iceland, Kazakhstan and Latvia.
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