Nickname: Clockwork Orange
Schedule: June 13 vs. Spain, June 18 vs. Chile, June 23 vs. Australia
World Cup History: Finals (1974, 1978, 2010), Semifinals (1998), Quarterfinals (1994)
Rankings: FIFA (15), SPI (10)
Winning Odds: 25-1
Cruyff. Van Basten. Bergkamp. Gullit. Seedorf. Rijkaard. Van Nistelrooy. Dutchmen populate the list of greatest soccer players in history. They dominate the list of greatest players to have never won a World Cup. Their teams are stocked with tremendous talents. They are often scuttled by equally tremendous egos. When things go well, they go very well. When they go poorly, they can go very poorly.
Qualifying Form: The Dutch won UEFA Qualifying Group D, beating second-place Romania by nine points. They finished with a 9-0-1 record and outscored opponents 34-5.
Manager: Louis Van Gaal has been a very successful club manager. He has won seven league titles at Ajax, Barcelona, AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich. He also won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995. He will become the next manager of Manchester United after the tournament. Van Gaal previously coached Holland from 2000 to 2002 and failed to qualify them for the 2002 World Cup.
Tactics: Depending on how one groups the midfielders, the Dutch will field an attacking 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. They play two sober, responsible midfielders fronted by a central playmaker, two attacking wingers and a lead striker. They can be lethal, if the egos align up front.
Player to Watch: Arjen Robben. The Bayern Munich winger is a pantomime villain. He could launch his own line of scuba gear. He can also turn a match on its head with a trademark mad dash into the opposing half. Robben does not always come through with the match on the line. But he puts himself in position to do so time…after time…after time.
Squad: This team is caught in a transition phase. Twenty-one of its 30 preliminary squad players have fewer than 15 caps for the national team. Most of the remaining nine are getting up there in years. Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben will each be 30 when the tournament kicks off. Sneijder has been cashing checks in Turkey. Van Persie has not been fit. But the attacking component is the least of the Dutch concerns.
Defensive midfield could get interesting. Emerging Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman going down with a knee injury was a major blow. The back four could also be a disaster. That’s the place where continuity and experience is most helpful. Seven of the nine defenders Van Gaal called up are 23 or younger. Only one has more than 13 national team caps. Five have one or zero caps. Topping that off, they will be playing in front of an inexperienced goalkeeper. Maarten Stekelenberg was left out of the squad entirely after a dreadful Fulham season.
The Dutch looked far better stocked entering Euro 2012. Though, that team laid an egg and left after the group stage.
Group Outlook: The Dutch are second favorites in the group, though it could get dicey for them. Chile, in particular, could offer their back line some problems. An opening match loss to Spain would ramp up the pressure on them. Second place, setting up a probable Round of 16 pairing with Brazil, does them few favors.
Hup Holland Hup: The Oranje players don’t always bring their A-game. But their fans do.
Notable WAG: Yolanthe Sneijder-Cabau, wife of Wesley Sneijder. The pair were married days after the Dutch lost the 2010 Final. She’s a Dutch actress of Spanish/Dutch descent. She also has a foundation to fight Child Sex Abuse in developing countries.
Arbitrary Dutch Power Rankings: 1. Rembrandt van Rijn 2. Johan Cruyff 3. Erasmus 4. Vincent Van Gogh 5. Willem de Kooning