Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal. Photo: Getty ImagesPorto Alegre: While Australia tries to figure a way to beat the Netherlands, the Dutch are concerned with which way they will beat Australia. That, distilled, was the essence of Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal’s pre-match media briefing at the Beira-Rio stadium on Tuesday.
Van Gaal himself was urbane and respectful. When asked if he expected an ultra-defensive Australian formation to counter a team that beat Spain 5-1, he replied: “I do not expect Australia to have a defensive game. In fact, I expect Australia to play an offensive game. Tim Cahill is one of the main qualities of the Australian team, so I do think they will be playing much more offensively than anyone in this room thinks. I think their coach is a very good coach.”
But earlier, when contemplating to what extent the cooler weather in Porto Alegre would speed up the game, Van Gaal canvassed another scenario.
“I think it makes a huge difference whether your play in Porto Alegre or Manaus (in the steamy north),” he said. “Here, you can play fast. At the same time, we shouldn’t also forget about the game of the adversary. If they are playing 10 men behind the ball, it will still be difficult to make pace. It’s not just climate, it’s also tactics.”
Star forward Wesley Sneijder was wary, noting the quirk by which the Netherlands have never beaten Australia.
“We’ve played three times and we didn’t win, so it will be a difficult match,” he said. “We all know this. After the 5-1 win, everyone will take the light view on this, but we will not. We must know how to play against this team. It might well happen that they will be very defensive. It might need another system. Only the coach knows.”
This was the nub of the dialogue. It has been since Van Gaal took charge and began to tinker theretically with that proud Dutch invention, total football. Van Gaal is not for the turning. “We have played total football. Nothing’s changed in that respect,” he said. “In the Netherlands, there is a view that you have to play 4-3-3 to play the Dutch system. I have a different view on that.”
5-3-2, 4-3-3 or another variation; this is the conversation that never ends. Against Spain, it was 5-3-2. Van Gaal observed that 4-3-3, with its extra frontman, would put greater pressure on Australia.
“But it doesn’t always yield results,” he said.
He knows that having torn up scripture, he cannot win except by winning. “If I’d used the 4-3-3 against Spain, there would have been criticism as well,” he said. “I don’t think it makes any difference.”
Van Gaal and Sneijder both averred that except when jumping for headers, the Dutch team was keeping its feet on the ground. “We haven’t earned anything yet,” said Van Gaal.
“We haven’t even made it to the next round.” Schneider said it was pleasing that the younger players, who might easily have their heads in the clouds after the Spain result, were looking no further ahead than Australia. “We all know that we have only earned three points,” he said.