Every week, the technical staff makes a draft of the Dutch national team. It is, say, the weekly rate of Orange. The question now is to what extent the physical setup, of the duel with Belgium, for example, differs from the team on November 21, in the first World Cup match against Senegal.
A lot is clear, with shown fitness and form. But today’s winner may be tomorrow’s loser. Today’s winner is goalkeeper Remko Pasveer, with his exciting story from the book for older men in football. Attracted by Ajax in mid-2021 because Onana was still suspended in the new season and Stekelenburg was getting older. Soon, at the age of 38, he may be the first goalkeeper at the World Cup after two solid international matches, although national coach Louis van Gaal downplayed his excellent performance, because one dive against Poland and a ‘pike dive’ against Belgium do not make great duels.
Cody Gakpo is another winner, playing in a place where he normally doesn’t come to PSV. He is an attacker in the role behind the two most offensive forces, while in Eindhoven he is usually left winger. Come on, another winner then: Kenneth Taylor, a creditable debutant and midfielder with a good right and left leg.
A loser is Teun Koopmeiners, who in his past had ‘delivered’ little to Orange in Van Gaal’s terminology, was given the chance as a controller in midfield but fell out against Poland after just one minute. Or Justin Bijlow, who didn’t get a call as goalkeeper. But that could change if Van Gaal has analyzed all the calculations of tests with goalkeepers and knows how many goalkeepers he takes: three or four.
Van Gaal can be content with the last full week together before the World Cup. Finished first in the Nations League group. The final round reached in the Netherlands, in mid-June, in the Kuip in Rotterdam and the Grolsch Veste in Enschede, because in Amsterdam and Eindhoven other Toppers and Guus Meeuwis sing the highest song.
Zero has been held twice. The system is widely accepted. The hierarchy is clear, with Virgil van Dijk as the undisputed captain. The game in possession can and should only be much better. The question is which attackers returning from injuries will still make it to the selection: Noa Lang, Donyell Malen, Arnaut Danjuma, Luuk de Jong, Brian Brobbey? Even Xavi Simons can count himself somewhat promising, although he has never been part of the selection.
It’s now about maintaining form, making minutes, rhythm and fitness. “I have to show it again at PSV,” said Gakpo after the praise. ‘It’s a new position. That is good for my development.’ Keeping fit is also a matter of luck, with the teams with European obligations still playing at least ten games or more until mid-November. There is no five, six week preparation to recover. Normally the World Cup is the dessert after the club season, now the players have to recharge twice in the autumn, instead of once: for the decisions in the group stage of Europe and for the World Cup.
Van Gaal will make room for Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay if they are somewhat fit and the decision on many players may fall shortly before the departure on November 15. One player has more pluses than the other based on the past. Defender Denzel Dumfries: ‘It’s a tough schedule. Everyone is geared to that. It’s a matter of listening to the body and periodizing it.’
In between, it is time for reflections. It’s going well with Orange, so why shouldn’t it stay well? Of the major European countries, Italy is not placed. England, France, Spain and Germany performed moderately to poorly in the Nations League group stage. Are they putting everything on the World Cup or are they currently unable to do better?
The Netherlands, eighth in the world ranking, qualified the easiest of all top countries for the final round of the Nations League. Van Gaal is unbeaten in 15 games. The Belgian press asked him how he estimates the World Cup chances of the aging Belgians. Van Gaal said coolly that he hardly ever looks at the Belgians during tournaments. ‘I only see Belgium when we have to play against them. Then we analyze them, and then we win.’ If it’s as easy as Van Gaal says, the Netherlands has a long way to go.