Although Group B’s opening fixture was expected to be a close-fought affair, most anticipated that Spain would emerge triumphant over Holland. Having performed so poorly at Euro 2012, expectations of Louis Van Gaal’s young side seemed uncharacteristically low. Even the Dutch media appeared to write off their own team’s chances against the reigning world champions.
So, imagine the surprise when the final whistle eventually rang out in Salvador and condemned the Spaniards to their heaviest defeat in recent times. Even in his wildest dreams, the soon-to-be Manchester United manager would never have expected his side to secure the victory by such a comfortable margin.
At such an early stage of the competition and with every team yet to play, it is impossible to proclaim one nation as clear favourites to lift the trophy in Rio on July 13th. But on the basis of last night’s demolition, here are THREE reasons to suggest that Van Gaal has transformed Holland into the World Cup favourites.
The injury to Kevin Strootman, which seemed so devastating at the same time, may actually prove to have been a blessing in disguise. To compensate for the loss of the Roma midfielder, Van Gaal shuffled his plans to suit his available players and settled on the 5-3-2 formation just four weeks before the competition. The change seems to have brought out the best in his players, with Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind in particular thriving out wide, and Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi benefiting from the experience of Ron Vlaar alongside them. It was a system which outwitted the Spanish and could prove tricky to counter.
In addition to the structural change, Van Gaal’s tactical instructions were evidently pivotal in the Dutch victory yesterday. It wasn’t a coincidence that Holland’s first two goals came from deep defence splitting passes from that cut through the heart of the Spanish defence. Robben and Van Persie were able to ruthlessly take advantage of the space between Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos that appeared time and time again. If Van Gaal is able to exploit the flaws of a side as strong as Spain, its likely that he has the capacity to identify the weaknesses of most, if not all, sides in the competition.
Robben and Van Persie
In Robben and Van Persie, Van Gaal has two of the most experienced and potent offensive options in Brazil this summer at his disposal. The 62 year old is believed to enjoy particularly strong relationships with players and judging by last night’s performance, knows how to bring the best out of the pair. Working in tandem, Robben and Van Persie ripped the Spanish defence to shreds and each secured a brace. If Van Gaal can continue to maintain such fine form from his star players, its difficult to envisage any defence containing the deadly duo.