Last four place a fitting reward for van Gaal’s faith in Dutch youth

With a third of their squad 24 or under this World Cup will stand to them

Having kept him pretty quiet on the pitch on Wednesday night, Argentina's players may not be overly concerned about the noises Arjen Robben was making afterwards in the mixed zone but the Bayern Munich winger is emphatic that it is the European side who will now win Sunday's World Cup final.

"Germany will be world champions, I'm certain of it," he told Kicker magazine in what will be the sides' third World Cup final meeting with honours so far even. He added: "Argentina have no chance".

The comments may have been prompted by the general sense within the Dutch camp they were hard done by not to beat the South Americans in Sao Paulo, although Robben seemed more restrained on that front than some of his team mates, notably Wesley Sneijder.

The Bayern Munich player admitted they struggled to create chances over the bulk of the original 90 minutes, but said he felt the team was getting better as the game moved into extra time.

Certainly it took a remarkable block by Javier Mascherano to prevent him getting a shot in on goal at one stage late on but there were few other chances to go along with it.

Despite Sneijder’s suggestion that only Lionel Messi and co played for penalties, in reality neither team could have complained about going out as neither had done enough, nor shown much urgency about trying to do enough, to win it before penalties.

Underlying achievement

Robben echoed the sentiments of the coach Louis van Gaal and several of his team-mates regarding the underlying achievement involved in the squad reaching the last four of the competition: “Of course I’m very, very disappointed that we were out. But I’m also incredibly proud of the team because we’ve made a big impact here.”

The scale of the surprise this time is related to the size of the shock over their poor form during Euro 2012 where they crashed out without a point at the group stage.

Here, van Gaal has done well to get so much out of a generally young defence. Ron Vlaar, at 28 may have been the best player in that department but around him the likes of Bruno Martins Indi and Daley Blind showed real promise at times.

A third of the squad, in fact, was 24 or younger and the coach has given game time to every player outfield player, something that is bound to stand to them in the future. It will be up to van Gaal’s successor, Guus Hiddink to continue the team’s development now but they are bound to be at Euro 2016 where they will again hope to be contenders.

The difficulty, certainly beyond that, is that most of team’s biggest stars, players like Robben, Sneijder, Nigel de Jong, Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie, are unlikely to feature at another World Cup and if any did they could not be expected to be contributing on the same level they were expected to here.

"Obviously it's a massive disappointment for them," said van Gaal's assistant Patrick Kluivert.

“It’s very hard to imagine them playing in the world finals again. With this probably being their last, you can understand their dejection at getting so close to another final and losing on penalties makes it even tougher, as I know from experience.”

Stick around

The toughest thing now, as Vlaar confirmed, is having to stick around and play for third place play-off. Brian Kerr speaks sometimes of having been at a conference around 15 years ago when the Croatian representative repeatedly mentioned the fact that his nation had finished third in France as he introduced himself.

For one of the game’s lesser powers, the sense of pride in securing the bronze medal position must, indeed, have some prestige attached to it but not for the Dutch, who, as it happens, the Croats beat back then for the honour and who have since had their fill of tournament let downs.

Van Gaal sounded like a man who’d happily strike a deal with Luiz Felipe Scolari to call the whole thing off but he knows he won’t get away lightly given that for the third time in four tournaments, the hosts are represented in the game.


The coach would presumably prefer to be laying the groundwork for his first season at Old Trafford but instead finds himself delayed for four days by a game that is essentially a television schedule filler.

His desire to skip the occasion was endorsed by Vlaar who was dejected playing well on Wednesday only to have what was a poor first penalty of the shoot-out saved.

“It’s sport, and it’s tough. But I’m a man and I’m not going to whinge about it,” he said.

“Of course, I know that I played well, but positive feelings pass to one side now. We’re going home empty-handed. It’s sad, because the only thing that counts is the title. There’s still the third-place match but it’s not the same thing.”

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