Holland were afforded the luxury of two home games in the March Internationals with Louis Van Gaal’s side twice filling the Amsterdam Arena against Estonia and Romania in their 2014 World Cup Qualifiers. The former Bayern Munich manager was given the role of Dutch head coach following a hugely disappointing Euro 2012 campaign under Bert van Marwijk where Holland, who were one of the favourites for the competition, never really performed and crashed out at the group stages. Van Gaal has already followed on from Holland’s Euro 2012 qualification campaign with his side still yet to drop a point in their pursuit of qualification for Brazil in 2014.
Van Gaal needed to look no further than Holland’s own Eredivisie when selecting the majority of his squad for the fixtures against Estonia and Romania with right full back Daryl Janmaat being called up to the squad along with fellow Feyenoord teammates Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij, Joris Mathijsen, Jordy Clasie, Ruben Schaken and Tonny Vilhena as a result of their excellent performances domestically which see the Rotterdam club challenging with great vigour for their first Dutch title in thirteen long years. The Ajax representatives in the squad were goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, Daley Blind, Ricardo Van Rhijn and Siem de Jong. Jeremain Lens, Kevin Strootman and Adam Maher of PSV Eindhoven and AZ Alkmaar respectively rounded off the Eredivisie’s contribution to the National squad with the rest of the named member playing their football outside of their country of birth, namely Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie and Ola John.
The opening fixture of the Amsterdam doubleheader was against Estonia who sit second bottom of Qualification Group D with only the pointless Andorra below them, however the Estonian’s did manage to hold their own against Van Gaal’s side throughout the first half with the home side looking very lackadaisical in possession of the football with the lack of urgency really frustrating the home crowd. Estonia very nearly took advantage of this in the dying moments of the first half with winger Konstantin Vassiljev of Amkar Perm of Russia forcing a double save from Kenneth Vermeer, the first through a powerfully struck shot from an angle whilst the second was a much tamer effort from the rebound of Vassiljev’s first effort.
With the Amsterdam crowd starting to signal their disenchantment at the first half performances in which Estonia had managed to restrict the Dutch to very few chances whilst at the same time giving the home side a lot of time and space on the ball, Van Gaal had to instil confidence back into his side. His half time team talk appeared to have done exactly that when just two minutes after the restart, first half substitute Rafael van der Vaart gave Holland the lead with a precise strike into the bottom corner of the net following a fantastic marauding run down the right hand side from Feyenoord’s Daryl Janmaat. Once this goal went in you did worry for Estonia and there was little doubt that going a goal behind completely threw Tarmo Rüütli‘s side of their game plan with Van Persie having numerous chances to put Holland further ahead in the ten minutes after van der Vaart’s opener.
Van Persie did eventually get his goal following more good work by Janmaat whose low pass across the goalmouth found Van Persie just yards in front of goal who regardless of his current form for his club, could not miss. Experienced winger Ruben Schaken was then introduced by Van Gaal and the Feyenoord man carried his outstanding domestic form onto the international stage posing a threat down the right hand flank for the ten or so minutes he was involved. Schaken was rewarded for his persistence with a goal in the eighty fourth minute of play, a pinpoint Van Persie cross from the left hand side found Schaken free in the penalty area and the Feyenoord winger duly powered the ball home to secure Holland’s 3-0 victory and make it five wins out of five games thus far in the Brazil qualifying campaign.
Holland look to continue their one hundred percent record in qualification just four days later when they face Romania who were still in with an real chance of a playoff spot, at the Amsterdam Arena. Van Gaal named an unchanged starting line-up to the one that emerged victorious against Estonia with the exception of Wesley Sneijder whose groin injury picked up in the win against Estonia forced him out of contention for the Romania fixture. Rafael van der Vaart, who replaced him against Estonia, was ushered into the starting eleven in the place of Sneijder.
If the performance against Estonia was somewhat underwhelming then the performance given midweek by Holland against Romania was outstanding, the Dutch once again kept possession of the ball as you would expect a Dutch side to do, but this time there was a much more controlled end product with chances being created left, right and centre leaving all pundits thinking Holland were definitely in with a chance of success in Brazil with the squad they have at their disposal now only going to improve in the months remaining before the World Cup. Holland took the lead inside thirteen minutes against a patchy Romanian defence with a Jeremain Lens through pass finding Van Persie who laid the ball to van der Vaart at the edge of the penalty area and the Hamburg midfielder duly applied the finish past Manchester City’s number two Costel Pantilimon.
Romania did enjoy a brief controlling five minute spell just after the half hour mark but their failure to produce a clear cut chance in this period would come back to haunt them as Robin Van Persie doubled the Dutch lead after fifty five minutes of play. A stereotypically jinking run from Arjen Robben saw the experienced winger ghost past two Romanian defenders allowing the Bayern Munich man to float in a cross which Van Persie duly headed into the net giving the Dutch a two goal advantage. Daryl Janmaat continuing his hugely impressive International week played a huge part in Holland’s third goal with the Feyenoord full back playing a pass to Lens who dragged the ball back exquisitely to draw the foul from Florin Gardos and Mark Clattenburg had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Van Persie capped off his excellent goal scoring week by sending Pantilimon the wrong way and placing the ball into the back of the net from twelve yards.
The rout was completed in injury time when Costel Pantilimon could only parry a powerful Adam Maher strike and unfortunately for the Romania goalkeeper the rebound fell straight to Jeremain Lens who slotted the ball into the back of the net with ease only continuing his extremely impressive International week which will no doubt alert Europe’s top clubs about his availability this summer depending on whether PSV reach the Champions League qualification places.
The two wins against Estonia and Romania make it six wins from six for Holland thus far in Qualification Group D which all but confirms their place in Brazil and with only four games remaining Van Gaal will be hoping to go one better than van Marwijk and win all ten qualifying fixtures. With Estonia away, Andorra away and Hungary at home in the next three fixtures it is quite conceivable that Holland will emerge victorious in all of those three and that will just leave the solitary trip to Turkey to face Abdullah Avci’s side who done little to impress in qualification this time around however this could be a potentially difficult test for Holland in their quest to remain unbeaten in their qualification for Brazil 2014.
With the Internationals now over, attention turns back to what it as a fiercely close run thing at the top of the Eredivisie with Ajax, PSV, Feyenoord and Vitesse Arnhem all still in with a shout of claiming the title come the end of the season. This weekend sees Feyenoord and PSV travel to Heerenveen and Roda JC respectively whilst Ajax and Vitesse play host to NEC Nijmegen and PEC Zwolle respectively.