With the Netherlands victory over Costa Rica in the World Cup Quarter Finals on penalty kicks, a great psychological weight may have lifted from the Dutch, frequent losers from the spot, and people are now wondering if this is the year that they can finally become champions of the world.
For a country that has produced so many fantastically gifted players over the past forty years, along with revolutionizing how football tactics and youth development is approached, it's astounding that the Dutch have never lifted the World Cup.
|1905 Netherlands National Team|
Unlike neighbouring countries in Europe, the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) refused to allow professionalism in the Dutch leagues right up until the early 1950's. As they continually lost talented players to other domestic leagues, and subsequently banned these players from playing for the national side, the Dutch team was rightfully seen as a minnow on the world stage. With the introduction of professionalism in 1954, and the formation of the Eredivisie in 1956, the standard of play in the country began to improve. The first winners of the Eredivisie, AFC Ajax, would also have a profound effect on the direction of Dutch football.
Implementing a youth development program that would one day become the envy of Europe, Ajax would not only dominate Dutch football, but dramatically change the fortunes of the national side. With the emergence of Johan Cruyff from their youth ranks in 1964 and the hiring of coach Rinus Michels the following year, the side began to implement a system of play known as Total Football.
The concept of Total Football involved the flexible movement of players all across the pitch, moving and covering for each other to fill spaces and confuse opposition markers. This system, which was heavily influenced by the great Hungarian side of the 1950's, required players to be comfortable with taking on different roles and to have the intelligence to adapt as the teams shape could change at any time during a match.
The Ajax way of playing also emphasized quick, short passing and movement that would be adapted to good effect by not only the Dutch national side, but in later years by Barcelona and Spain. The 1970 Brazilian World Cup winning captain, Carlos Alberto, described Ajax and the Netherlands style of play as a carousel of passing and movement. After seeing his Manchester United side demolished by Barcelona at Wembley in 2011, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson also referred to Barcelona having beaten them with their "carousel of passing". This was a style of play adapted from the Dutch and the direct influence of Michels and Cruyff.
|Johan Cruyff scores on Argentina in the 1974 World Cup|
|1988 European Champions|
The 2014 tournament this has seen anything but a vintage Dutch side. They lack the genius of a Johan Cruyff, the magic of a Ruud Gullit, the vision of a Dennis Bergkamp, or the lethal threat of a Marco van Basten. However, they have done what they've needed to win. Utilizing the speed and cunning of Arjen Robben, the steel of Nigel de Jong in the middle, the goal scoring threat of Robin van Persie and a solid back line, the Dutch opened their campaign by destroying Spain 5-1. Since then it has not been plain sailing, but under the crafty leadership of Louis van Gaal they have exceeded expectations and find themselves in the World Cup Semi Final against old foes Argentina.
|Arjen Robben has been key to the Dutch's progress in this tournament|
We'll find out in the next week.