Assessment: LVG inspires Netherlands
Sum the WC up in a sentence
Through tactical discipline and superb management, Netherlands managed to exceed expectations by a country mile.
Arjen Robben managed to reach a whole new level at this World Cup. In time, we will likely look back on the winger's career and pinpoint this tournament as his absolute peak, with the moment he ran Spain's Sergio Ramos ragged during Oranje's opening match as the standout high point on a personal level. Constantly menacing, even during the scoreless draws against Costa Rica and Argentina, it's difficult to argue Robben should not be in the tournament's top five players. Allegations of diving do not change that.
All team assessments
Group Stage: Australia | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Cameroon | Croatia | Ecuador | England | Ghana | Honduras | Italy | Iran
Ivory Coast | Japan | Portugal | Russia | South Korea | Spain
Round of 16: Algeria | Chile | Greece | Mexico
Nigeria | Switzerland | Uruguay | United States
Quarterfinals: Colombia | France | Belgium | Costa Rica
Semifinals: Brazil | Netherlands
There were many highlights for Netherlands. First and foremost, there was the 5-1 demolition job against reigning world champions Spain. Then there was the victory against Mexico in the round of 16: coming back from being 1-0 behind, it was a win earned from the pit of despair. Finally, there was Louis van Gaal's audacious decision to substitute first-choice goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen shortly before the penalty shootout against Costa Rica. It seemed strange but turned out to be a match winning move.
Netherlands' 0-0 draws against Costa Rica and Argentina were uneventful and uninspiring. This is where Oranje's shortcomings came to the fore; against team that sat deep and kept it tight at the back, Van Gaal's counter-attacking tactics did not allow for the creativity needed for a pro-active style of play. This is also what made Ron Vlaar's missed penalty against Argentina extra sour. Arguably, Netherlands had lost the match by not scoring during regular time.
Ahead of the tournament, not many people gave Netherlands much of a chance. The defence was too inexperienced, it was often said, and there wasn't enough quality in the squad. Van Gaal and his team proved both arguments wrong. At the back, Vlaar and Stefan de Vrij proved they had what it takes to nullify some of the world's best attackers. In midfield, Nigel de Jong reached new heights, while Wesley Sneijder retrieved at least some of his old form. Up front, Robben proved he was one of the best players in the world and Robin van Persie scored four goals in total. This generation of Dutch footballers is simply not as bad as a lot of people thought.