World Cup 2014: Netherlands national soccer team guide
THE NETHERLANDS' LATEST TROPHY PUSH
Small but studiously efficient at producing smart, technical players and seductive tactical concepts, the Netherlands are the last remaining member of the game's traditional aristocracy yet to claim a World Cup trophy.
They did reach the third championship final in their illustrious history at South Africa 2010, however, warding off the uniquely Dutch penchant for self-destructiveness well enough to give them real hope of another deep run in Brazil, especially after an imperious march through UEFA qualifying that propelled them to No. 8 in the October 2013 edition of the FIFA World Rankings.
WHO GOT THEM THERE
Robin van Persie, F, Manchester United (pictured left): A world superstar at the top of his game, RVP was not only deadly in front of net with 11 goals in this qualification cycle, he's also been durable, featuring in nine of Die Oranje's 10 matches and earning the captain's armband after struggling for consistent fitness earlier in his career.
Rafael van der Vaart, M, Hamburg: To some, he's a playmaking visionary of the highest class, while others see him as a classic “luxury player,” a phrase that dogged him during his time in the English Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur. The 30-year-old may not always go the full 90 minutes, but he can weave magic at any moment, as his five goals in 370 qualifying minutes would suggest.
Arjen Robben, M, Bayern Munich: The latest and greatest of the Dutch flying winger archetype, Robben is quick, cerebral and utterly ruthless. He slices and dices opposing defenders – and aggravates millions of fans with his gamesmanship.
Louis van Gaal oversaw the Netherlands' startling failure to reach Japan/Korea 2002, but the well-traveled manager is riding high in his second stint in charge of his homeland's side.
Though not universally loved, the 62-year-old carries a distinguished resume with gigs in charge of Ajax, FC Barcelona, AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich. And he has Die Oranje – a legendarily quarrelsome bunch over the decades – playing soccer that's both attractive and effective.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 9-0-1, 28 pts. / 34 GF, 5 GA (1st place in Europe’s Group D)
No team in Europe – perhaps no one in the world – were more dominant on the road to Brazil than the Dutch. Their goal differential was the best on the continent and their points total was only matched in their region by Germany's similarly confident cruise through UEFA qualifying.
The only blip on their record was a 2-2 draw at Estonia in September, where it took an injury-time penalty kick from van Persie to escape Tallinn with a point. The Netherlands finished 2013 on a 12-game unbeaten run.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
The Netherlands are such a powerhouse that the occasions on which they miss out on the World Cup in the modern era are more notable than their successful qualifications. A down period in the 1980s saw them miss out on both Spain '82 and Mexico '86 before returning to glory with a title run at the 1988 European Championships, their only major trophy to date. They reached the World Cup final in 1974, 1978 and 2010 and were unlucky to fall at the semifinal stage in 1998.
The USMNT are 0-4-0 all-time against the Netherlands, their most recent meeting a 2-1 Dutch friendly victory in Amsterdam on March 3, 2010, the Yanks' last match before coach Bob Bradley's final roster selection for the World Cup in South Africa ... A bevy of current US internationals including Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Brad Guzan will ruefully recall their 2-2 group-stage draw with Die Oranje in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a match that the Americans led deep into injury time only for a late Gerald Sibon free kick to steal what would have been a famous, quarterfinal-clinching victory ... Canadian-born Dutch midfielder Jonathan de Guzman is one of his birth country's most controversial soccer products, having taken Dutch citizenship – and eventually, international allegiance – after joining Feyenoord's youth academy in his early teens ... USMNTer Aron Johannsson plays his club soccer at Dutch Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar and Altidore, Bradley and DaMarcus Beasley have logged time in the influential league.