Netherlands – Czech Republic, 4-0
How hard can it be? The experts tumble over each other with systems, yet they forget the simplest things.
Starting with 23 players: we’re not going to play three goalies, so that’s 21 players left: of these, several are either second-tier players (De Boer, Bosvelt, Zenden), have played too little lately (Kluivert) or have hardly ever fitted Oranje before (Seedorf).
That’s 16 players left; of these, only 11 can play.
Strictly speaking, Van Hooijdonk is also a second-tier player, but he brings many qualities to the pitch that none of the other players possess; for instance, he is always a threat in ‘standard situations’.
Keeper: Van der Sar. Westerveld and Waterreus are good too, but there is no reason to deviate from the staple.
At this point, it is good to remark the weak point of the Dutch team: they crack down under the pressure that invariable occurs when remaining goalless during a match. This has been exploited lately by almost every adversary. The opponents of the Dutch tend to play very defensively, to the point where Oranje just gives up.
The upshot is that opponents generally play with very few offensive players. The logical conclusion should be for every coach that we can do with less defenders. The Dutch could easily play a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 system.
Defenders, therefor: Reiziger, Stam, Heitinga.
The discussions about systems usually deal with the choice of playing with fast midfielders on the flanks, who can run to the opponent’s back line and the pass to a single forward, or playing with two strikers and a strong midfield. The latter choice is generally considered cowardly and un-Dutch, but the former choice requires the fast runners to pull this system off.
Robben is not up-to-speed yet (literally!) after an injury, and Van der Meyden convinced exactly only once against the Germans, when he gave Van Nistelrooij the assist that led to the equalizer, and that only happened after Van Hooijdonk had started spreading fear and panic among the German defense.
So, the less characteristic approach should be taken of having two strikers, which almost automatically should be Van Nistelrooij and Makaay. There are only a few mid-fielders in Oranje who have consistently shown they can supply forwards with goal-scoring passes, and score themselves off the rebound too. However, only Van der Vaart has shown that ability recently.
Once ‘we’ have scored the first goal, the Czechs will change their tactics and start a more offensive type of play. At that point, one of our midfielders needs to be converted to a defender, and the Dutch have only two candidates for that role: Van Bronckhorst and Cocu. The latter hasn’t played very well recently, so Van Bronckhorst it is.
The next person we need is a great playmaker, a tactician, somebody who’s the heart of the Stam-Van der Vaart axis, somebody who rules supreme on the mid-field. Unfortunately, Ruud Gullit has retired, and Zinedine Zidane already plays for the French.
The one available player who approaches Gullit both in psychological make-up and ex-haircut is Van Hooijdonk. ‘Unfortunately’, he is also a real striker. I doubt he would be happy on the midfield.
The other player that springs to mind is Seedorf. I removed him to the bench earlier, because he is too self-willed and hardly ever fits the Dutch type of play. However, from time to time he has shown that when asked, he can fit himself for a role he doesn’t like. So lets bring him back from retirement and place him behind Van der Vaart (if need be, they can switch position during play).
That leaves ‘our’ flanks relatively understaffed. Reiziger and Van Bronckhorst can run up and down the field when required, but of course cannot keep doing that the entire match. For these vacancies, Van der Meyde is the logical choice for the right flank. Although he put in a mostly appalling game against Germany, he has also shown that with the right amount of distraction on the mid-field, he can shake loose his direct opponents.
That leaves only the second hard choice for this match (and the following ones): Sneijder or Robben? The former has shown again and again that he has a fantastic touch; Sneijder is a great ball-placer. However, with Van der Vaart and Heitinga in the line-up, there are already two players for strategic free- and corner kicks. My preference is therefor for Arjen ‘Speedy Gonzales’ Robben, who can almost do the same things that Overmars could when he played at Arsenal.
There, that wasn’t too hard now, was it? I don’t understand why Advocaat looks so grumpy all the time. This is fun!
Once more, from goalie to Ruud:
Van der Sar Reiziger Stam Heitinga Van Bronckhorst Van der Meyden Seedorf Robben Van der Vaart Makaay Van Nistelrooij