The Netherlands are looking to some familiar faces to get the Oranje to the World Cup in Russia after failing to turn up for Euro 2016
After failing to qualify for last summer’s European Championships, the Netherlands are in severe danger of missing out on yet another major tournament.
The 2010 World Cup finalists are currently in the second position in group A, behind France on the road to Russia 2018, but have the slightest of margins over chasing Sweden and Bulgaria. The latter will be their opponent on Saturday night in what is a key game for World Cup qualification.
The Dutch have been a shadow of themselves since the World Cup in Brazil of only two-and-a-half-years ago. Back then, a solid defensive organization eliminated all attacking threats of the opponents and facilitated a sensational Arjen Robben. The semi-final was the Waterloo; a result far better than expected beforehand.
Subsequently, mastermind Louis van Gaal departed his role as Holland manager and former Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink took over. Poor results eventually led to the sacking of Hiddink and his assistant Danny Blind – ex-Ajax captain – was given the thankless task of getting the Netherlands to Euro 2016 from what was a far from an ideal position. Blind wasn’t victimized for a failure for the Netherlands to qualify and has now been given the chance to prove his credentials as he is expected to lead Holland to Russia.
The first four games of the qualifying campaign have resulted in two wins (vs. Belarus and Luxembourg), a draw (vs. Sweden) and a loss (vs. France). It has left the Oranje in a battle for the second place with the aforementioned Bulgaria and Sweden, assuming the superb France side will not slip up.
And just like at the World Cup in 2014, it’s still 33-year-old Arjen Robben that is seen as the main man. He and Wesley Sneijder are the only two remaining players of the so-called ‘Big Four’, consisting of Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart, Sneijder and Robben, that are in the latest squad.
The problem for the Dutch is that there still aren’t any natural successors coming to the surface. Youngsters like Memphis Depay and Riechedly Bazoer, who have been forecast to have great careers, have stagnated in their progress. Where in the past managers of Holland had luxury problems, nowadays it’s the complete opposite.
One positive for Danny Bind is that in Bas Dost he has a striker in the form of his life. The Dutchman has netted 24 goals in 23 games for his club Sporting Portugal this season, leaving only Lionel Messi in front of him in the Golden Boot rankings. Dost and Robben, combined with the midfield pair of Davy Klaassen and Georginio Wijnaldum are having outstanding seasons and should guide their country to a good result away at Bulgaria.
The home side Bulgaria will feel that, in Sofia, a win is the only possible outcome for them if they want to make any chance of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1998. When we look at Bulgaria’s star players, one player springs to mind; Ivelin Popov. The shadow striker is one of eight players in the Bulgarian squad that plays abroad. Popov, himself plays in Russia for Spartak Moscow and is to Bulgaria what Robben is to Holland.
Besides Popov, the Bulgaria squad is far from impressive and if you compare both national teams, the Netherlands should comfortably grab all three points. Holland has, however, lost to opponents of the same caliber in the Czech Republic and Iceland in recent years so there are no guarantees.
Despite all of that, I can’t see any other outcome than a win for the Dutch on Saturday night with an in-form Dost and an always sharp Robben leading the way. Defensively, Blind’s men could find trouble but his side simply has too much firepower up front to not beat Bulgaria.