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Bringing back Total Football


WLKRAS

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Bringing back Total Football

July 2009

“Believe me, I’ve seen the future. We’ll make it to the final, but we’ll be the ridicule of the world. We’ll be labelled as dirty and ugly Neanderthals who have given up on their past. A glorious past, that led to two World Cup finals appearances and a completely new style of play. Yes, van Marwijk will lead us to the final. But we will lose. And lose poorly. I can change that. I WILL bring back Total Football. Dutch football will be glorious again. Not dirty and ugly. I promise to make football sexy again.”

My sales pitch was passionate, but KNVB chairman Michael van Praag didn’t look convinced.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t see what your point is. Bert van Marwijk has a contract, we are unbeaten under his guidance in Qualifying with seven wins out of seven and we’ve only conceded two goals.”

“Mr van Praag, that is all well and good, but this has not exactly been sparkling like Dutch football should be”

I sounded deflated now. I knew van Praag was not going to go for it.

“I’m sorry Chris. I cannot just go around sacking managers just because of your whims. You’ve been a great servant to this country, but you know how it works. There’s absolutely no cause to dismiss Bert and the committee would look ridiculous at best. Your views are appreciated as always, but we cannot do as you ask.”

Van Praag stood to indicate that our meeting was over. I got up too and shook hands with the chairman of the KNVB.

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Twelve months later

“You were right”

I tried not to look smug. I failed miserably.

“I hate to say it Mr van Praag…”

He cut me off with a swift wave of his right hand.

“Yes yes, you told us so. It may be too late for this World Cup, but we have come round to your way of thinking. The job is yours, should you want it. We have every faith that you can bring us back Total Football. Make Dutch football the envy of the world again.”

I nodded and signed the papers in front of me. As of now, Chris de Bruijn was the new Netherlands manager.

The World Cup was still on going, so my appointment was fairly low key. The press conference was run of the mill. I told the assembled press that we would bring back total, sexy football. They didn’t really believe me, but we’ll show them. Meanwhile in South Africa, Italy retained the World Cup, beating Brazil in the final.

The first order of business was to select a new team captain as Giovanni van Bronckhorst decided to step down from the role. My assistants quickly drew up a list of candidates to replace him, but I already had my men selected for the job. Rafael van der Vaart would be the new captain while Johnny Heitinga would be vice-captain, replacing Mark van Bommel. With the departure of his father-in-law, he may well find himself out of favour.

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Pre-qualifying Friendlies

South Korea await in my first match. A friendly at the Amsterdam ArenA should be a nice easy start. A number of players that had been left out during the closing days of van Marwijk’s reign returned.

Goalkeepers

Maarten Stekelenburg [GK – Ajax – 27] - 32 Caps / 0 goals

The undisputed first choice in goal, Stekelenburg has always been tipped as the natural successor to Edwin van der Sar. He should be the mainstay for many years to come, but he has some competition at club level so should stay on top of his game.

Michel Vorm [GK – FC Utrecht – 26] – 1 Cap / 0 goals

Vorm looks a decent enough backup to Stekelenburg who should get better still with age.

Piet Velthuizen [GK – Vitesse – 23] – Uncapped

The young Vitesse goalkeeper is a bright one for the future and could realistically replace Stekelenburg if he continues to develop

Defenders

John Heitinga [sW, DRC – Everton – 26] – 57 Caps / 6 goals

Newly appointed vice-captain, Heitinga should be a mainstay at the back for years to come. Already passed 50 caps at quite a young age, John could well be around for another ten years. Can also play in midfield when required

Khalid Boulahrouz [DRC – Stuttgart – 28] – 29 Caps / 0 goals

‘The Cannibal’. Not that good technically, but a beast defensively. Will probably not be first choice, but in case someone needs to be taken out of the match, Khalid is your man.

Dirk Marcellis [DRC – Udinese – 22] – 12 Caps / 0 goals

Young defender whose performances for PSV earned him a big money move to Italy with Udinese. He should be one for the future.

Joris Mathijsen [DC – HSV – 30] – 54 Caps / 3 goals

Another technically limited defender, but a good man-marker. One of the older members in defence, but his experience should come in handy. Is one of the players who would’ve preferred van Bronckhorst to stay as captain.

Hedwiges Maduro [DC / DMC – Valencia – 25] – 12 Caps / 0 goals

Technically accomplished, but that sometimes means he’s more suspect as a pure defender. He can lose concentration, but a good player nonetheless. Could be more suited to a midfield role.

Gregory van der Wiel [D/WBR – Ajax – 22] – 3 Caps / 0 goals

A youngster with a bright future, van der Wiel is best going forward, but not a bad defender either. Competition at club level might see him drop out of the squad, but he’ll only get better.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst [D/WBL – Feyenoord – 35] – 100 Caps / 5 goals

The old captain contemplated retiring completely from international football, but decided against it and earned himself a place in the squad. He’s probably no longer first choice, but his experience will be important.

Urby Emanuelson [D/WB/AML – Sevilla – 24] – 15 Caps / 0 goals

Emanuelson will be first choice most likely, having made a £10M move from Ajax to Spain. Technically accomplished, but might not be the strongest defensively.

Royston Drenthe [D/WB/AML – Real Madrid - 23] – 8 Caps / 0 goals

Drenthe will probably more be used as a winger than a defender. He’s quick and has good a decent cross on him. Defensively a bit more suspect, but he’s capable of covering the position on the left.

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Midfielders

Demy de Zeeuw [DM/MRC – Ajax – 27] – 25 Caps / 0 goals

Can function as both a holder/enforcer and a creator. Has got a decent shot on him, so should be keen to test his luck. Sometimes a bit too aggressive in his holding role, which can lead to unnecessary bookings.

Mark van Bommel [DM/MC – Bayern Munich – 33] – 58 Caps / 9 goals

If de Zeeuw is a bit aggressive, van Bommel is way over the top. Can be quite a dirty and nasty player, which can be helpful in some cases, but is detrimental in others. Won’t be first choice now that his father-in-law is no longer the manager, but should be a good backup

Nigel de Jong [DM/MC – Man City – 25] – 44 Caps / 1 goal

Best known in some places for his Bruce Lee antics, de Jong is actually a good defensive midfielder. Not especially tall or broad, but still a big physical presence on the pitch. Will be first choice as the holder.

Arjen Robben [AMRL – Bayern Munich – 26] – 47 Caps / 11 goals

Robben is arguably one of the best players in the squad. Can play either side of midfield and has tons of pace and flair. Has a reputation for going down a bit quickly sometimes, but he’s still a great player who can change a match in an instant.

Eljiro Elia [AMRL – HSV – 23] – 1 Caps / 2 goals

Elia is in the same mould as Robben. Not quite as talented or well-known just yet, but he’s one to watch for the future. Most likely to be used as an impact player, unless he make such an impact that I can’t not select him.

Clarence Seedorf [AMC – AC Milan – 34] – 91 Caps / 11 goals

One of the few remaining veterans dating back all the way to Euro 1996. Still a very useful player for the national team. Very accomplished player technically and a rare breed in that he’s won four Champions League trophies with three different clubs.

Rafael van der Vaart [AMC – Real Madrid – 27] – 73 Caps / 17 goals

The new captain is a great player. Already has 73 caps at age 27 and he could well overtake Edwin van der Sar as the most capped player. Great touch, passing and technique and should be able to boss the midfield alongside Wesley Sneijder

Wesley Sneijder [AMRLC – Inter – 26] – 65 Caps / 11 goals

Like van der Vaart, Sneijder is a excellent player, able to strike the ball with either foot. His small stature limits him in the air, but he more than makes up for it with some great skill. His ability to strike the ball often puts fear into the hearts of opposition goalkeepers

Attackers

Robin van Persie [AMR/FC – Arsenal – 27] – 46 Caps / 17 goals

More a forward than an out-and-out striker, but still a good goalscorer. Depending on the system, he may or may not find himself on the bench. He has a fantastic touch and great technique.

Dirk Kuyt [AMR/ST – Liverpool – 30] – 64 Caps / 14 goals

Kuyt is not the most accomplished player. He does not have the silky skills or scores the dazzling goals, but he always works his ass off. He’ll run and run till he’s knackered and then he’ll run some more. Fantastic attitude and deserves to be in the team just for that.

Ryan Babel [AMLC/ST – Liverpool – 23] – 43 Caps / 7 goals

It’s much to Terk’s disgust no doubt that Babel is even here. Great pace and a rasping shot, but has hardly ever showed that at Liverpool. 11 goals in 33 games last season may indicate that he’s turned the corner but only time will tell. Fourth choice as striker however.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar [sT – AC Milan – 26] 30 Caps / 18 goals

The highest goal scorer in the current squad and is the most likely to come near Patrick Kluivert’s record of 40 goals. Superb finisher, be it with his feet or with his head and pretty much assured to be in the right place at the right time. First choice up front.

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Thanks cf2 and Balthy :)

Before the game, the squad was reduced to 23 men as Wesley Sneijder had to pull out with a back strain. I decided against calling up a replacement since it was only a friendly. Ahead of the game, the press was keen to get some soundbites from me and I gave them plenty of ammunition when I stated I wouldn’t consider calling up naturalised players. Dirk Kuyt was the only player to have an opinion on my comments, but he wasn’t too best pleased. He’d better keep his mouth shut if he wants to stay in the squad.

The team would line-up in an unusual 5-5 tactic. Four defenders, a defensive midfielder, four attacking midfielders and a lone striker. Stekelenburg was in goal, the back four was comprised of Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen and Emanuelson, with De Jong playing just in front of them. The attacking line was led by Huntelaar, with Van Persie, Van der Vaart, Seedorf and Robben shortly behind them.

It turned out to be a memorable debut. The team swarmed all over the Koreans and it took just four minutes for Clarence Seedorf to open the score with a low shot to the right of the goalkeeper. Five minutes later, Nigel de Jong hit the crossbar after a free kick. The Netherlands continued to boss the game, claiming nearly 60% of possession. Captain van der Vaart was disappointing, but other than that we ruled supreme. The only thing that lacked was goals. We ended up with 25 attempts on goal (against South Korea’s 1), with eleven actually on target. But at the end of 90 minutes we only had one solitary goal to show for it.

At least the style of the game was right, Total Football was back

Stekelenburg 6.9; Van der Wiel 6.9 (45 Boulahrouz 7.2), Emanuelson 7.3, Heitinga 7.5, Mathijsen 7.3; De Jong 7.5; Van Persie 6.9 (45 Elia 6.8), Robben 7.0 (70 Babel 6.8), Van der Vaart 6.1 (70 de Zeeuw 6.7), Seedorf 7.5; Huntelaar 6.4 (70 Kuyt 6.8);

Netherlands 1 (Seedorf)

South Korea 0

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Thanks Spav :)

Sneijder returned for our second friendly against Brazil, but there was no van Persie (MCL sprain), Maduro (sprained ankle) or Elia (back pain) all missing with injury. The other new faces in the squad were Stijn Schaars, a defensive midfielder, and Ibrahim Affelay, who can play in any of the attacking midfield roles. Brazil would be a true test of the 5-5 system. They were, after all, the team that put Holland out of the World Cup and made it all the way to the final.

After the Brazil game, the same squad would take on Finland in the first Group B Qualifier. Finland should not be too troublesome and the group that we’d drawn should be fairly easy. Turkey would be the main competitor, while Finland and Latvia would probably fight for third. Iceland and Andora would probably just make up the numbers.

It seemed a bit strange to travel all the way Brazil for a friendly and then having to travel back to Amsterdam to face the Fins, but the bosses had thought it out this way and we had to put up. Sneijder started for the star man from last game, Seedorf, while Kuyt replaced van Persie as the right winger. Brazil would be a true test, with Pato and Robinho both in hot form recently. On the plus side though, they had Lucas in midfield, so it couldn’t all be bad.

Once again, we were well on top through the first half. Brazil were limited to just one chance and that was well wide from Felipe Melo. The majority of our chances came from free kicks by Van der Vaart, but Sneijder and Hunterlaar both came close as well, only to be denied by Heurelho Gomes. We lost Robben to a knock at half time and decided not to take any risks. Ryan Babel came on to replace him, to level out Terk’s hate factor. Just after the break Dirk Kuyt put us in the lead. Huntelaar played him in and Kuyt completely bamboozled Liverpool teammate Lucas to blast home for a Dutch lead. Melo made up for his miss in the first half by setting up the leveller on 68 minutes, turning away from three players after being played by Robinho and returning the ball to the striker. He slotted a low shot past Stekelenburg. Seven minutes later, Pato pounced on a rebound from Robinho’s shot to make it 2-1 to the Brazilians. Alex made it three for them minutes from the end, after we’d been chasing an equaliser. It was an unfortunate loss, but the 5-5 had stood up surprisingly well, especially in the first half. At no point were we completely outplayed by the Brazilians and for 45 minutes we dominated them. Having said that, we still lost, so there’s room for improvement.

Stekelenburg 6.8; Van der Wiel 6.9, Emanuelson 6.9, Heitinga 6.9, Mathijsen 6.9; De Jong 6.9 (75 Van Bommel); Kuyt 7.5, Robben 6.9 (45 Babel 6.9), Van der Vaart 5.9 (75 Seedorf 6.8), Sneijder 6.9 (75 Affelay 6.6); Huntelaar 7.0;

Brazil 3 (Robinho, Pato, Alex)

Netherlands 1 (Kuyt)

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Thanks Mark, it seems he's having a slow start under my enlightend guidance so far

Robben’s injury wasn’t severe, a bruised rib, but it was enough to keep him out of the Finland game. Ryan Babel was the man selected to replace him. The flight back had taken it’s toll on a few players, but we decided to go unchanged other than Robben’s injury. Once more, the 5-5 was looking good. The main man was Klaas-Jan Huntelaar this time. On 27 minutes he was the first to respond on a rebound from Kuyt’s header. Two minutes later, Van der Vaart sent a pinpoint pass through the Finnish defence, straight for Huntelaar to run on to. He made no mistake and hit it low into the net for his 20th goal in the Orange shirt.

The hattrick was completed in the second half. This time the attack started on the left, via Emanuelson. He played it down the line for Babel. The Liverpool man cut inside and threaded a great through pass in for Huntelaar to complete his hattrick. Just after that, Sneijder had to come off with an injury. It wasn’t a major injury and he wouldn’t be out long, but he had to be replaced none the less. Seedorf and Affeley once again came on to replace him and Van der Vaart. The captain had his first good game at the right time and was given a big round of applause as he came off. In injury time, Seedorf replicated van der Vaart’s move from the first half and set up Huntelaar for his fourth goal of the game.

Stekelenburg 7.2; Van der Wiel 7.3, Emanuelson 7.0, Heitinga 7.0, Mathijsen 7.2; De Jong 7.2; Kuyt 7.3, Babel 7.7, Van der Vaart 7.7 (58 Seedorf 6.9), Sneijder 6.9 (58 Affelay 6.4); Huntelaar 9.6;

Netherlands 4 (Huntelaar 4)

Finland 0

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I'm interested in how you've got your team set up tactically. I'm still a rank amateur in setting tactics in this game, and I do appreciate total-football based styles of play, especially when you've got them working so well in the matches played so far. Well done on the start, too, will follow with interest.

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A little tactical intermezzo for Dechardonay

The team lines up like this with a pretty clear split between attack and defence (Hence my dubbing it a 5-5 tactic).

         ST

AML   AMC    AMC    AMR



         DM

DL    DC     DC     DR

         GK

GK : Sweeper Keeper (Defend)

DR : Full Back (Defend)

DL : Full Back (Defend)

DC : Central Defender (Defend)

DC : Central Defender (Defend)

DM : Defensive Midfielder (Defend)

AMR: Winger (Attack)

AML: Winger (Attack)

AMC: Attacking Midfielder (Attack/Support)

AMC: Attacking Midfielder (Support)

ST: Advanced Forward (Attack)

Philosophy : Fluid

Starting Strat : Control

Passing style : Shorter

Creative Freedom : More Expressive

Closing Down : Press More

Tackling : Default

Marking : Man Marking

Crossing : Default

Roaming : More Roaming

I think this is the best impersonation of total football without completely exposing yourself defensively. I'm quite tempted to experiment some more, with attacking wing backs coming up and I might try that against one of the lesser nations in a friendly or something. The first attacking midfielder gets a support or attacking role depending on the strength of the opposition (which I think is why Van der Vaart has been struggling at times, cause he fills that role). Also, I've toyed with the wingers swapping sides (depending on who's playing there) and that may well add another dimension.

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It was lucky that the final two qualifiers of the year saw us face Andorra and Iceland since we were dealing with a minor injury crisis. Robben and Heitinga were both injured, but included in the squad of 24, but van Bronckhorst, Mathijsen, Schaars and Vorm had to miss out. Boulahrouz and Maduro weren’t fully fit either, but they did make the squad. There was a first call up for Tim Krul as third goalkeeper, while van Persie and Elia returned to the squad. Finally, Edson Braafheid made his first squad under my management.

The injury list got longer when Clarence Seedorf tore his hamstring. Nacer Barazite was promoted from the U21 squad, having scored 10 goals in his 7 matches so far.

The odds were firmly stacked against Andorra and they didn’t try hard to upset them. Sneijder was the star man today, opening the score on thirteen minutes after an opening flurry that saw miss numerous chances. Twelve minutes later, Ryan Babel provided Huntelaar with a chance he couldn’t miss and the top scorer duly obliged to make it two. Babel was at again just before half time, this time slicing open the defence to give van Persie the opportunity to blast it into the back of the net.

After the break, it was Sneijder once again. Andorra goalkeeper Tamudo cleared the ball from outside his area, but could only find the Inter man. Not wasting any time, Sneijder fired in an audacious chip to make it four-nil. His hattrick came just after the hour. Former club teammate van der Vaart found Sneijder unmarked and from a good twenty yards out the midfielder let fly right past Tamudo. After that, Barazite came on for his full debut, but he failed to make much of an impression. Ryan Babel however, completed the rout for us, threading it in from a seemingly impossible angle.

Stekelenburg 7.2; Van der Wiel 7.3, Emanuelson 7.3, Maduro 7.3, Boulahrouz 7.0; De Jong 7.2; Van Persie 8.4, Babel 8.7, Sneijder 9.4, Van der Vaart 7.6 (63 Barazite 6.9); Huntelaar 8.2 (Kuyt 6.9);

Andorra 0

Netherlands 6 (Sneijder 3, Huntelaar, van Persie, Babel)

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Wow, very interesting tactical setup. Given I didn't get FM10 (assuming you're on FM10) your formation has got me curious. Personally I've found on FM08 and FM09 that formations like that (with really distinct gaps between the lines) tend to get slaughtered, but you seem to be doing all right. Good job!

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Balty - Aye I am on Fm10 and I'm quite surprised how well it's been doing so far.

Mark - Van Persie is not, nor ever will be a striker and as such will never play that role for me.

dechardonay - Thanks for the support :)

The win was stylish, but it came at a price. Maarten Stekelenburg picked up an injury and would miss the game against Iceland while Mark van Bommel and John Heitinga were doubtful. Robben was only just back as well and might not be risked. Iceland had surprised so far by, with two wins out of two and scoring seven goals and only conceding one. Admittedly, five of those goals came against Andorra, but they still claimed a good 2-1 win over Latvia. Piet Velthuizen took over in goal, but the line-up was otherwise unchanged. Robben and Heitinga made the bench, but wouldn’t be risked unless absolutely necessary.

The weather was bad enough that we had to play with the orange ball. The snowy conditions in Reykjavik didn’t make any easier, but we were still able to dominate. We had by far the majority of the possession (60-40), but in the first half we only managed to express that in the score line by one goal. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was the man to make the difference, thrashing home Ryan Babel’s pass from 20-odd yards. By half time, both Van der Vaart and Van Persie had picked up knocks, so I decided to take them off to prevent further injury. Dirk Kuyt and Nacer Barazite came on in their place.

We piled on the pressure in the second half and even though we didn’t create a load of chances, we still managed to add to our tally. Hunterlaar scored his second with another stunner, this time a curling shot from 25 yards out. Five minutes later, we added a third, Dirk Kuyt scoring in a somewhat bizarre fashion. He had the ball on the right and was toying with his marker before cutting back and lifting a cross into the six yard box. But it evaded everyone, including Arason in the Iceland goal and plopped into the far corner. After that, Iceland came out of their shell a bit, but Velthuizen made a series of good saves to keep them at bay. But he couldn’t keep a clean sheet, Vidarsson got through his defences with a long range shot to drag one back for the hosts. But Total Football wasn’t done yet, Wesley Sneijder got us a fourth with another long range shot, straight after the kick off. An excellent four-one win to keep up top of the group.

Velthuizen 7.2; Van der Wiel 7.5, Emanuelson 7.3, Maduro 7.2, Boulahrouz 7.2; De Jong 7.1; Van Persie 7.0 (45 Kuyt 7.5), Babel 7.3 (61 Elia 6.9), Sneijder 8.0, Van der Vaart 6.1 (45 Barazite 7.0); Huntelaar 8.5;

Iceland 1 (Vidarrson)

Holland 4 (Huntelaar 2, Kuyt, Sneijder)

| Pos   | Inf   | Team    |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 1st   |       | Holland |       | 3     | 3     | 0     | 0     | 14    | 1     | +13   | 9     | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 2nd   |       | Turkey  |       | 3     | 2     | 1     | 0     | 9     | 2     | +7    | 7     | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 3rd   |       | Iceland |       | 3     | 2     | 0     | 1     | 8     | 5     | +3    | 6     | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 4th   |       | Finland |       | 3     | 1     | 1     | 1     | 6     | 7     | -1    | 4     | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 5th   |       | Latvia  |       | 3     | 0     | 0     | 3     | 2     | 9     | -7    | 0     | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
| 6th   |       | Andorra |       | 3     | 0     | 0     | 3     | 0     | 15    | -15   | 0     | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 
|       |       |         |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       | 
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------| 

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We would finish the year with a friendly in Tunis against Tunisia. A number of players returned to the squad, including Stekelenburg, Mathijsen, Vlaar and van Bronckhorst. Tunesia were 49th in the world rankings, so shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge, especially now that we’ve moved up to third behind Brazil and Italy. Captain Rafael van der Vaart was on the bench after a slight fitness concern with Nacer Barazite gaining his first ever start. Other than that, the strongest team was out on the pitch.

We had a fair number of chances, but unfortunately, we didn’t manage to put too many efforts on target. Tunisia were not as attacking, but a smart passing move and a lapse of concentration by Emanuelson put them one ahead. Ben Saada found striker Jemaa with his through pass and our left back wasn’t fast enough moving up and played the Tunisian onside. A triple substitution at halftime to bring on Kuyt, Babel and Van der Vaart should’ve sparked some new life into the attack. But it didn’t. The team seemed all too aware that it was ‘only’ a friendly and couldn’t find the extra gear to do away with the hosts. Sneijder put Babel through for an equaliser fifteen minutes from time, but while the Liverpool player scored, he was offside. But deep in injury time, another Liverpool player managed to save our faces. Nigel de Jong played in Dirk Kuyt on the right and fired a low shot in off the far post and into the back of the net. The clock at that point read 93 minutes, but our bacon was saved.

Stekelenburg 6.9; Heitinga 7.0 (62 Marcellis 7.0), Emanuelson 7.2, Mathijsen 7.0, Maduro 7.0; De Jong 7.4; Van Persie 6.5 (45 Kuyt 7.5), Robben 6.9 (45 Babel 6.9), Sneijder 6.8, Barazite 6.6 (45 Van der Vaart 6.9); Huntelaar 7.0;

Tunisia 1 (Jeema)

Holland 1 (Kuyt)

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  • 3 weeks later...

2011

The new year would start with a home friendly against Ecuador. Once again, a number of first choice players were missing (Robben and Van Persie) among them forcing me to re-think my strategy. Two new players made their way into the squad. Firstly, Ibrahim Affelay earned a recall after his big money move to Liverpool, while Ajax talent Siem de Jong was also awarded a place in the squad.

The starting lineup however was fairly familiar. Van der Vaart returned in the middle, while Babel and Kuyt took over on the flanks. Early proceedings were very equal with both sides gaining plenty of opportunities, but failing to put their efforts on target. For Holland, captain van der Vaart smashed a banana shot into the side netting and Sneijder clipped a header onto the crossbar. They were the highlights of an underwhelming first half. The second half brought substitutions since a number of players had half a game instructions. Siem de Jong was one of the new introductions, gaining his first cap. He made his presence known straight away, setting up Ryan Babel in space, but the left winger fired wide. At the other end, Ecuador continued in their failure to test the goalkeeper (now Velthuizen having come on at half time). Both Valencia and Benitez had good opportunities but their efforts were high, wide and not very handsome. But with five minutes remaining on the clock, it was right winger Saritama who picked up the ball twenty yards out and promptly fired it past Velthuizen into the top corner. An embarrassing loss and not a good start to 2011 for the Total Football kings.

Stekelenburg 7.2 (45 Velthuizen 6.7); Heitinga 7.2, Emanuelson 7.1, Mathijsen 6.9, Maduro 6.8 (45 Vlaar 6.2); N. de Jong 6.7 (45 De Zeeuw 6.7); Kuyt 6.7, Babel 6.2, Sneijder 6.1 (82 Affelay -), Van der Vaart 6.8 (45 S. de Jong 6.6); Huntelaar 6.8 (63 Barazite 6.4);

Holland 0

Ecuador 1 (Saritama)

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We had to bounce back from that disappointing defeat to face up to second placed Turkey in our first qualifier of the year. They have seven points against our nine, having dropped two in a 2-2 draw with Finland. But despite that indiscretion they have a strong side, featuring the likes of Arda Turan and the Altintop’s.

Robben and van Persie were still out with injury, so Kuyt and Babel deputised once more on the wings. Total football picked up again straight away, with Wesley Sneijder forcing Volkan into a smart save down to his left, just five minutes into the game. Not long later, Van der Vaart forced a corner from a similar situation, except this time to the right of the keeper. But completely against the run of play and with their first chance, Turkey took the lead after sixteen minutes. Sahin played in Nihat and the Besiktas striker slid his effort underneath Stekelenburg.

We threw ourselves forward and were rewarded on 21 minutes. Babel found his former Ajax teammate Van der Vaart, who in turn found Hunterlaar unmarked in the area. The striker put it away with ease to level things again. Two minutes later an absolute rocket from the same man put us in front. This time, about twenty five yards out, Hunterlaar let fly with a vicious right foot and it swerved into Volkan’s top corner. We continued to control the remainder of the half and save for the occasional thwarted counter by the Turks (thanks to our midfielders working hard), there was no danger.

The second half was less than two minutes old and we were celebrating once more. A free kick, around twenty five yards out and it was Rafael van der Vaart, the captain who picked up the ball, put it down and promptly fired it in off the post. The lads continued to work hard, with Sneijder heading away a corner in his own box and nearly scoring at the other end from the resulting attack. With legs tiring, I decided to put some new players on and that clearly influenced our fluidity. There was still time for Hunterlaar to get his hattrick though, played in by Van der Vaart and firing home from a narrow angle. The assistant referee ruled out a fourth, but the Milan man was still more than happy to take the match ball away.

Stekelenburg 7.2; Heitinga 7.3, Emanuelson 7.0, Mathijsen 7.1 (69 Van der Wiel 6.6), Maduro 7.3; De Jong 7.1 (61 De Zeeuw 6.9); Kuyt 7.4, Babel 7.0, Sneijer 6.9 (61 Barazite 6.7), Van der Vaart 8.4; Huntelaar 9.5;

Holland 4 (Hunterlaar 3, Van der Vaart)

Turkey 1 (Nihat)

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It was another two and a half months until our next set of games, away to Latvia and Finland. It would be the last hurray for veteran Clarence Seedorf, who would retire in the close season. Sentimental as I am, I let him start in Skonto, seeing as Van der Vaart was out with injury. To counter that though, we were boosted by the return of our primary wingers, Van Persie and Robben.

The match kicked off in heavy rain, which hampered both sides, but us more than them. Gradually though, the rain eased off and the damp pitch started to have a positive impact on our football as time went on. Robben and Van Persie caused constant mayhem on the wings, partially because Latvia played too narrow, but we were unable to apply a finishing touch in the first half. It was Seedorf who actually came closest with a 30-yard drive which fizzed past the upright.

At half time, vice captain Heitinga came off with a knock, which meant that Seedorf got the armband in what might be his last game. Despite his ageing legs, he directed play like a general directs battle. Sneijder hit the post just after the break, but it was cleared away before Seedorf or Huntelaar could react. The latter was disappointing, unable to live up to his usual standard and just as I had instructed Dirk Kuyt and Nacer Barazite on who they’d replace (Huntelaar and Seedorf), we scored. It was Seedorf who hit a first time pass to Huntelaar and the striker easily shrugged off his marker. His shot should’ve been saved by Latvia goalkeeper Vanins, but he let it slip through his grasp in Rob Green style and we were 1-0 to the good.

I decided to go through with the subs anyway and both of them managed to hit the woodwork. With our insistence on missing chances, it was bound to go in at our end and with 15 minutes left to play, Verpakovskis found Kolesnicenko unmarked in the box and the latter slid his shot underneath Stekelenburg for the equaliser. Van Persie wasn’t too happy, claiming offside and his wild protestations earned him a yellow card. It didn’t matter in the end. Kuyt combined with Barazite to make it 2-1 with minutes left on the clock and in injury time with Latvia pushing for an equaliser, it was again Kuyt who made the most of a counter attack to put the final score at 3-1

Stekelenburg 7.1; Heitinga 6.9 (45 Van der Wiel 7.0), Braafheid 7.6, Mathijsen 7.1, Maduro 7.0; De Jong 7.0; Van Persie 6.9, Robben 7.2, Sneijder 7.0, Seedorf 6.9 (63 Barazite 7.0); Huntelaar 6.8 (63 Kuyt 8.3);

Latvia 1 (Kolesnicenko)

Holland 3 (Vanins og, Kuyt 2)

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Heitinga had picked up an elbow injury in the previous game and he was replaced in the squad by Erik Pieters. It meant that in his last ever game of football, Clarence Seedorf would be leading out the Dutch side. Finland would be a tricky opponent. They had just beaten Andorra 9-0 and as such were on a high. They came out in a narrow formation, clearly missing the lessons of the Latvia game, but they had a fair few attacking players. It almost seemed like a narrow variation of the 5-5. With that in mind, I immediately told my players to attack down the flanks and was rewarded after just 13 minutes. Van Persie put in the cross from the right and managed to find the head of Robben at the far post. The little winger made no mistake from close range and put us in the lead. We continued to dominate possession throughout the first half and didn’t give the hosts a sniff.

The second half got off to a fantastic start again. Two minutes in, van Persie found the head of the unmarked Hunterlaar and our leading striker had no problems with putting that particular effort away. With ten minutes gone in the second half, I made my substitutions. It was a farewell to Clarence Seedorf. After 96 caps and 12 goals, he was hanging up his boots and the applause was certainly loud as he made his way off the pitch, to be replaced by Barazite. Van der Wiel and Huntelaar were also tiring, so I decided to bring on Marcellis and Kuyt in their stead. After that, the game turned somewhat processional. The Fins couldn’t up the tempo and we were happy to sit back and counter. Robben missed one-on-one with the keeper and Kuyt had a close range header saved for our best chances. At the other end, Vayrynen beat Stekelenburg but was denied by the post as the game ended in 2-0.

Stekelenburg 7.4; Van der Wiel 7.3 (58 Marcellis 6.9), Braafheid 7.1, Mathijsen 7.3, Maduro 7.2; De Jong 7.0; Van Persie 7.7, Robben 7.9, Sneijder 6.9, Seedorf 6.9 (58 Barazite 6.3); Huntelaar 7.5 (58 Kuyt 6.9);

Finland 0

Holland 2 (Robben, Huntelaar)

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It was our sixth qualifier win in a row and it kept us at the top of the table with 18 points, five more than Turkey. Our goal difference was also superior with 23 goals scored and only 3 conceded. But before we started the new season good and proper with more qualifiers, we had a friendly coming up against a much fancied Spain side.

We had our strongest team out, including returning captain Van der Vaart, but none of them could prevent Spain taking the lead just three minutes in. Raul Albiol converted with his head from Jesus Navas’ corner. It was another game played in heavy rain (apparently no one in Amsterdam had thought to close the roof on the Amsterdam Arena). It got worse on 24 minutes when it was another Navas corner that caused us problems. This time it was Iniesta who got on the end of it, but the result was the same, 2-0 Spain.

We were completely incapable of any sort of reply in the first half, so I decided on wholesale changes at the break. With five new players on the pitch, we looked fresher and it was Dutch Young Player of the Year, Georginho Wijnaldum who put us back in the match. He collected a pass from Van der Vaart and slid it into the far corner of the net ten minutes into the second half. A goal on debut for the youngster and the game was on. We continued to create chances, but that man Casillias was top drawer and made a couple of smart close range saves from Wijnaldum and Kuyt. In the end, we suffered another friendly loss, but at least the second half performance was a lot better.

Stekelenburg 7.0; Heitinga 7.1, Emanuelson 6.8, Matthijsen 6.7 (45 Boulahrouz 7.0), Maduro 6.2 (45 Braafheid 7.2); De Jong 6.8 (45 De Zeeuw 7.0), Van Persie 6.9 (58 Elia 6.7), Robben 7.0 Sneijder 6.5 (45 Wijnaldum 7.3), Van der Vaart 6.8; Huntelaar 6.2 (45 Kuyt 7.0);

Holland 1 (Wijnaldum)

Spain 2 (Albiol, Iniesta)

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  • 1 month later...

Cheers Spav - Apologies for the break in posting but I got distracted by a variety of other games

It was not an ideal preparation for our double header against Iceland and Turkey, numbers three and two in our group, but it was only a friendly and we shan’t dwell on the result.

Heitinga, Maduro and Wijnaldum were missing through injury, which meant we might be a bit thin at the back, but Van der Wiel and Ron Vlaar should be able to cover for them. At home against Iceland shouldn’t be too difficult a game, despite the fact that they set their stall out to defend. We, on the other hand, were looking to attack as usual. It took us sixteen minutes until Sneijder found Van Persie ghosting in around the back of the defence, rounding the keeper and passing it into the back of the net. Captain van der Vaart fired some efforts from distance, but only managed to find the side netting.

The second half was the same as the first. Iceland were unable to make a dent into our defences, even at half strength, but we couldn’t force anything more than shots from distance and with our lead we didn’t have to. With six minutes to play, Aron Gunnarsson was sent off for the visitors after his second bookable offence. Three minutes into injury time, Van der Wiel floated a cross over from the right and found Wesley Sneijder completely unmarked at the back post where he could head the ball in without problems. Two-nil the final score and with it, we qualified for the play-offs with seven wins out of seven. A win over Turkey in the next game would see us through.

Stekelenburg 6.8; Van der Wiel 8.0, Emanuelson 7.4, Matthijsen 7.0, Vlaar 6.8 (45 Braafheid 6.5); De Jong 6.9; Van Persie 7.1 (45 Elia 6.8), Robben 7.0, Sneijder 8.4, Van der Vaart 6.9; Huntelaar 6.4 (60 Kuyt 6.6);

Holland 2 (Van Persie, Sneijder)

Iceland 0

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  • 2 weeks later...

First of all, thanks to everyone who has voted to get this story into the final round of voting, I must say I was pleasantly surprised

Drogba, Holland went out in the QF against Brazil while England finished third, beating Argentina in the playoff, having lost 3-0 against Italy in the semi's

Second place Turkey would be a tough match, especially away from home, though surprisingly we were not playing at the Ali Sami Yen stadium of Galatasaray, but the nearby Besiktas stadium. Our first team were all fit and well for this crucial game, which was certainly a bonus.

The advantage of not playing in ‘Hell’ wasn’t quite obvious though as Turkey took charge of early proceedings, Stekelenburg saving Mevlut’s close range header. But gradually we got into the game, mainly thanks to Wesley Sneijder. He had a shot saved by Volkan and fizzed a long range effort just wide. Turkey had the last say in the half though, Mevlut again making an impression, Stekelenburg saving his first effort and the second one again just wide.

We lost Robben at half time as he was struggling with his fitness and Ryan Babel coming on to replace him. But it didn’t make much of a difference as the Turks took the lead right after the break through Hamit Altintop, heading in Arda Turan’s cross. We struggled desperately to get back into the game, unable to make an impression even with fresh legs coming on off the bench. It looked like we got a little help from the referee, when Necip was sent off for Turkey, but matters were soon levelled when De Jong received his second yellow card. Nihat then settled matters by making it 2-0 to Turkey, our first competitive loss.

Stekelenburg 6.8; Van der Wiel 6.6, Emanuelson 6.5, Matthijsen 6.5, Vlaar 6.8; De Jong 6.8 (s/o 87); Van Persie 6.5, Robben 6.7 (45 Babel 6.7), Sneijder 6.5, Van der Vaart 5.9 (63 Barazite 6.6); Huntelaar 6.6 (63 Kuyt 6.6);

Turkey 2 (H. Altintop, Nihat)

Holland 0

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Thanks for the support Makonnen, let's hope it's the only one for a while

Two games remained for us to secure an automatic qualifying spot for Euro 2012. We were still top of our group, two points ahead of second placed Turkey and we had the advantage of playing the bottom two in the group, Andorra and Latvia, while they had to contend with numbers three and four, Finland and Iceland.

I decided on some changes for our last round of games. Van der Wiel and De Jong, both suspended for one game, were dropped. There were no real surprises in the squad. Maduro, Heitinga and Affelay returned and there was a first call up for the brilliantly named Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who had earned himself a £6M move to Lazio Roma. Our preparations were disrupted when Emanuelson had to withdraw with a knee cartilage tear while Vlaar suffered a concussion in training, but remained with the squad. Udinese’s Kees Kwakman joined the 23 others for the two games.

After a 6-0 win away, the press were calling for a demolition job and it looked like they were going to get it. Just fourteen seconds into the game, Rafael van der Vaart had the ball in the back of the net, pouncing on Babel’s through ball and slotting past Andorran goalkeeper. The frantic opening continued with Demy de Zeeuw hitting the bar and van der Vaart narrowly missing the target before Huntelaar waltzed through the defence from the half way line and made it two with his 30th goal for the national team. There was really no letting up and with 21 minutes on the clock, Babel headed home from close range to make it three, Elia the provider from the right wing. That was the cue to take our foot off the gas and the only other chance of the first half was Huntelaar being denied by the Andorran goalie in a move that saw the striker pull up after hitting the ball.

I decided to bring Van Wolfswinkel on at halftime, to preserve Huntelaar for the Latvia game and give the youngster a taste at the big time. Captain van der Vaart was also withdrawn as a precaution and it was his replacement Barazite who set up Elia for our fourth, the winger skipping his way past two defenders before firing in a low shot. And that wasn’t the end of it. We added more goals in the last ten minutes. Barazite got the first one, completely unmarked on the edge of the area and he made no mistake from there. And a poor backpass contributed to the last goal, leaving van Wolfswinkel one on one with the goalkeeper and he added a first goal to his first cap.

Stekelenburg 7.0; Boulahrouz 8.3, Braafheid 8.3, Matthijsen 8.0, Heitinga 8.0; De Zeeuw 8.2; Elia 9.3, Babel 9.4, Sneijder 8.5, Van der Vaart 7.5 (58 Barazite 8.0); Huntelaar 7.3 (45 Van Wolfswinkel 7.2);

Holland 6 (Van der Vaart, Huntelaar, Babel, Elia, Barazite, van Wolfswinkel)

Andorra 0

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Turkey had managed a narrow one-nil win over Finland, meaning we’d have to wait until the following Wednesday to confirm our place as the top team in the group. A draw should be sufficient as we are two points ahead, but our goal difference is far superior (+26 v +17). Having said that, we were all keen to beat Latvia, Erik Pieters calling for a demolition job before the match. With that in mind, I stuck to the same XI that did the business against Andorra.

We got off to a frantic start in the Amsterdam rain, testing Latvia goalkeeper Kolinko no less than three times in the opening ten minutes. Unfortunately for us, he was up to the challenge. We had far more of the ball and Latvia barely ventured out of their own half. Nevertheless, it took us until the 30th minute to break the deadlock. Kolinko, who had been stellar up to then, made a grave error, coming for a long ball from Stekelenburg at the other end. The ball skidded on the wet surface and rolled through his legs, where Wesley Sneijder was ready to pounce and poke it home. Sneijder nearly made it two straight after, but this time the Latvia goalkeeper managed to push it away and out into touch.

We pushed further forward in the second half, looking to add to our tally, but Kolinko continued to be a thorn in our side, saving first from Sneijder’s long range effort, followed by a neat stop from Huntelaar’s header. With the margin still just one goal, we had to be careful of Latvia counter attacks, but there were blessedly few of them as they continued to camp in their own half. The introduction of van Wolfswinkel didn’t change anything to the pattern either, Kolinko saving from his close range effort. Finally, in the 93rd minute of the game, Sneijder settled matters. Van der Vaart’s clip over the top saw Sneijder clean through and one-on-one with Kolinko he made no mistake. The news from Iceland was that Turkey had drawn, so we’d easily made it to the top of the group, qualifying automatically for the Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, alongside France, Croatia, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Spain, Germany, Russia and Turkey (as best placed #2).

Stekelenburg 7.4; Boulahrouz 7.3, Braafheid 7.5, Matthijsen 7.0, Heitinga 7.3; De Zeeuw 7.0; Elia 6.5 (45 Kuyt 6.5), Babel 6.9 (45 Barazite 6.8), Sneijder 9.0, Van der Vaart 7.0; Huntelaar 6.7 (66 Van Wolfswinkel 6.7);

Holland 2 (Sneijder 2)

Latvia 0

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