Before this FIFA World Cup™, many predicted that the Netherlands would not survive to see the Round of 16. As it was, they were the first nation to book their place.
Having done so from a section that includes reigning champions Spain, Chile and an Australia team they had never previously beaten, it was hardly surprising to find coach Louis van Gaal found purring with contentment. However, as he told FIFA, he anticipates the Oranje’s final Group B game against the in-form Chileans being their toughest yet, and is desperate to avoid a possible showdown with the hosts.
FIFA: Mr Van Gaal, you’ve made a great start to this World Cup, winning your first two games and qualifying with a match to spare. How satisfied are you?
Louis van Gaal: More than satisfied. The main aim in such a tournament is to you get through the group stage. We are in a very difficult group and we were the first team at the World Cup to qualify – for me, that is unbelievable. Now of course we want to finish first, and that is going to be tough enough against Chile. I had expected in advance that they would be our toughest opponents because they are very impressive.
As with the game against Spain, you had to come from behind against Australia. Was going a goal down a result of your opponents playing well or your own team’s sloppy mistakes?
In my opinion, Australia were only given a chance as a result of our sloppiness. Ball retention was our biggest problem. That said, Australia didn’t actually create too many chances. We created infinitely more and could have easily won 4-2 or 5-2. That is what everyone forgets: a match lasts 90 minutes. Messi scored against Iran in the last minute – that’s part of the game.
Does that sloppiness have anything to do with the inexperience of some of your players?
No, it simply has to do with quality. Australia played a very passionate game and were very tight, which resulted in less time and space for my players. That means you need a great deal of quality to be able to break through. We didn’t really show that quality but, who knows, we might do so against Chile.
Is it an advantage for you to be able point out these problems to your players at this stage?
Of course. If you keep winning despite that [sloppiness] then it will be an advantage because the players will accept [criticism and advice] more easily. It falls on fertile ground, as we would say in the Netherlands.
Your next match will be decisive as to who comes first in the group. How would you describe Chile as a team?
They are incredibly passionate and extremely well-organised. And they play on the attack. I think they have a fantastic coach, who has persuaded his players to play football. They carry out his instructions in a passionate and persuasive way and it is beautiful to see.
With Chile focused on attacking, do you consider that as a danger to your team’s chances or do you also see it as an opportunity?
I foresee a lot of opportunities because, like Spain, they are extremely eager to attack. They are also a team which always trusts in their own abilities. That could provide us with some opportunities from which we might be able to benefit.
What kind of game do you expect?
I think both teams are equally strong. I expect it to be 50-50.
Is it at all important for you to avoid Brazil?
Definitely. If I were allowed to choose, I’d rather not play against Brazil, although Croatia or Mexico aren’t bad opponents either. But I think at a World Cup the host country always has an advantage.
As you’ve mentioned, Messi scored in injury time for Argentina. You yourself have match-winners like Robin van Persie. Is that what makes the difference at a tournament like this?
Well, so far I think that the strikers who perform so well in Europe – [Luis] Suarez, Messi, [Thomas] Muller, [Karim] Benzema, but also our strikers, [Arjen] Robben and Van Persie – have really shown their worth to their teams. I think it’s been a long time since that that was the case [at a World Cup]. It’s really impressive that these players, despite the high expectations and pressure on them, have still been able to show what their true value is.