It’s been eight long years since the Netherlands last played a World Cup match, a 3-0 victory over Brazil that earned them the honour of third place in 2014. They return now with the same manager, Louis van Gaal, whose tactics made the Dutch one of the most entertaining teams in Brazil, but the trail left behind by his subsequent successors and then predecessors largely explains why the time in between their last World Cup appearances has been so long, as well as chaotic.
Missing out on Euro 2016 under Guus Hiddkink was followed by their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup under Dick Advocaat, as well as much soul-searching. The Netherlands seemed to regain their spark under Ronald Koeman and swiftly reached Euro 2020, but his departure to Barcelona left them in a lurch. The Dutch failed to impress on their return to a major tournament and there was little surprise when Frank de Boer departed just two days after their tepid round of 16 defeat to the Czech Republic.
And so up stepped Van Gaal, for his third spell in charge of the national team and first job since leaving Manchester United in 2016. Van Gaal – who earlier this year underwent a successful operation on an aggressive form of prostate cancer – inherited a squad that is less polished than the late golden era of 2014, but still one that is loaded with star talent. Virgil van Dijk, Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt will feature at a World Cup for the first time and under Van Gaal, the Netherlands have rediscovered some of their joy, too.
Although they squeezed past Turkey and Norway in qualifying, their Nations League results since have shown promise – including a thumping 4-2 win over rivals Belgium. Indeed, after qualifying for the Nations League finals there is an argument that the Dutch are the most in-form European side heading into the World Cup. With Van Gaal set to step down once again after the World Cup, can he leave the nation with another memorable and unexpected run?
Here is everything you need to know:
Group fixtures(all times GMT)
Monday 21 November: Senegal vs Netherlands – 16:00
Friday 25 November: Netherlands vs Ecuador – 16:00
Tuesday 29 November: Netherlands vs Qatar – 15:00
Confirmed Netherlands squad
Goalkeepers: Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord), Remko Pasveer (Ajax), Andries Noppert (sc Heerenveen)
Defenders: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Nathan Aké (Manchester City), Daley Blind (Ajax), Jurriën Timber (Ajax), Denzel Dumfries (Internazionale), Stefan de Vrij (Internazionale), Mathijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich), Tyrell Malacia (Manchester United), Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen)
Midfielders: Frenkie de Jong (FC Barcelona), Steven Berghuis (Ajax), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Cody Gakpo (PSV), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Kenneth Taylor (Ajax), Xavi Simons (PSV)
Forwards: Memphis Depay (FC Barcelona), Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Vincent Janssen (Royal Antwerp FC), Luuk de Jong (PSV), Noa Lang (Club Brugge), Wout Weghorst (Beşiktaş)
Ones to watch
Star – Virgil van Djik: An ACL injury cruelly denied the Liverpool defender his first appearance at a major tournament when he missed Euro 2020, and he will relish the opportunity of playing in Qatar. He remains one of the world’s top defenders, returning to his best last season, and although there have been question marks this campaign – the presence of the colossus helps bring certainty and assurance to the side that was missing at the Euros.
Breakout talent – Cody Gakpo: Manchester United sniffed around the PSV winger this summer and their interest was mirrorer by a host of other Premier League sides. Homegrown talent rarely stays in the Eredivisie for long and the 23-year-old certainty seems to be the next one off the block. A tall, rangy forward who looks to cut inside onto his right foot and is not shy of shooting at goal, he is among the top goalscorers in Europe this season.
The Netherlands should top Group A and could catch the eye in the early stages of the World Cup with goals and entertaining football that may even have some talking up Van Gaal’s side as dark horses. The Dutch’s favourable draw should extend to the round of 16, where they could face Wales or the United States unless England make a mess of Group B. However there is a reason why the Netherlands aren’t quite in the top tier of World Cup contenders, and that could be found out in the quarter-finals, probably by Argentina. Defeated in the quarter-finals.