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2014 World Cup Team Preview: Netherlands

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Getting to know… Netherlands
Let’s start with their names. First, yes, it’s ok to call Netherlands “Holland,” and “Hup Holland Hup!” is one of their most used slogans. They’re also called oranje, which may seem confusing for a country with a red, white and blue flag. William of Orange organized the Dutch revolt against Spain, leading to an independent state – and perhaps putting the national team’s first 2014 World Cup match in a bit of perspective. But if you don’t need a bit of history with your team nicknames, go ahead and call them the Flying Dutchman, as that’s much more fun anyway.

Those of you paying attention in 2010 will remember Netherlands as the runners-up, the team that lost to Spain after a rather brutish display in the final. Supporters would likely prefer you remember the team that way. It means you weren’t watching Euro 2012. In Poland/Ukraine, the team were but a ghost of their former self, collecting zero points from matches with Germany, Portugal and Denmark. Coach Bert van Marwijk quit almost as soon as the team reached Schipol Airport.

But back before their was Spain and their tiki-taka, we had Holland’s Total Football. The team of the 1970s, lead by playmaker Johan Cruyuff, revolutionized the sport with their novel approach: the idea that players should be able to adapt to play any position throughout the match. That adaptability lead to two appearances in the World Cup finals, in 1974 and 1978, but Netherlands has never won the tournament.

Record in qualifying
Breezed through UEFA qualifying, collecting nine wins and a draw – to, perhaps surprisingly, Estonia. Much of Holland’s group was well-matched, with Romania, Hungary and Turkey all battling for second place. That meant the oranje finished nine points clear at the top of Group D, with a +29 goal difference. They also allowed just five goals from ten matches.

Group B
After their failure at Euro 2012, Holland slipped down in the rankings, leaving it outside the top seven teams. Without being seeded, Holland found themselves drawn into one of the Groups of Death. Group B looks rather gruesome: Spain, Chile, and Australia. Spain are almost a certainty to continue on, and Australia are likely not to threaten all that much. But Chile could provide a scare: they’re technically accomplished and quick to attack. Will Holland’s aging squad mean the Flying Dutchmen will wing their way home early once more?

Game schedule

Friday, June 13 at 3 p.m. ET: Spain vs. Netherlands (Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador)

Wednesday, June 18 at 12 noon ET: Australia vs. Netherlands (Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)

Monday, June 25 at 12 noon ET: Netherlands vs. Chile (Arena Corinthians, São Paulo)

Star player
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. A bit of a surprise pick, perhaps, what with Arjen Robben of Bayern Munich and Robin van Persie of Manchester United certain to be included in the squad. But you never know when van Persie will break, and you can’t count on Robben not completely whiffing a shot at exactly the wrong moment.

Enter Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The Schalke forward missed half of the season with a knee injury, playing only seventeen Bundesliga games. He marked his January return with the opening goal against Hamburg, and his recovery also sparked Schalke’s revival. By the end of the season, Huntelaar had twelve goals, and Schalke were in third. If he can perform in a similar fashion for Netherlands, advancing won’t be a worry.

(READ MORE: HOLLAND’S 23-MAN ROSTER FOR WORLD CUP)

Manager
Many Premier League fans already know plenty about Louis van Gaal, as the media had loads of time to fill us in while waiting for Manchester United to officially appoint him as manager. But van Gaal needs to get Holland through Brazil before he can head off to England.

Aloysius Paulus Maria van Gaal has an impressive resume: schooled in Total Football at Ajax, he went on to coach at the club (twice) before moving on to Barcelona (twice) and Bayern Munich (just once). However, his first stint with the Netherlands national team did not go so well. Under van Gaal, Holland failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, for the first time since 1986. His resignation in January 2002 prompted the first rumors of a move to United.

Secret weapon
Memphis Depay. Netherlands boast a lot of aging players up front: van Persie, Robben, and Huntelaar are all 30, Dirk Kuyt is 33. Then there’s Depay, an exciting young talent who plays with the swagger of a man who knows he’s on his way to greatness. The 20-year-old has a wonderful nose for goal, scoring 12 for PSV this Eredivisie season. He’s also extremely fast, something that could come in handy when van Gaal looks to change up a match and his old guard are limping around a bit.

Prediction
While van Gaal may have a clear, tactical approach, it’s unclear he’s got the personnel to carry it off. His squads vary from game to game, and many of his players have already been ruled out with injury (Kevin Strootman, Rafael van der Vaart) or are often one sneeze away from succumbing (van Persie, Wesley Sneijder). If they emerge from Group B in second place, they’ll face Brazil, so I say: out before quarterfinals.

Do you agree?

MLS Snapshots: Impact 5-1 Union | Toronto FC 4-1 DC United (video)

Didier Drogba
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): Look out, America, for the Canadians of Major League Soccer are here, and they mean business. Saturday night saw the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC thrash the Philadelphia Union (5-1) and D.C. United (4-1), two playoff-caliber teams in their own right, each at home, to move to within four and six points, respectively, of New York City FC, the current leaders of the Eastern Conference. The stars for the two sides? Would you believe me if I told you Sebastian Giovinco and Didier Drogba each scored a hat trick on the night? Of course you would, because they’re Giovinco and Drogba. At their best, it’s hard to argue any team in the East is better than either Montreal or Toronto. Here’s to 180 minutes of Drogba vs. Giovinco in the Eastern Conference finals.

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

19′ — Silky smooth build-up ends with a Drogba tap-in — If you’re allowing Drogba chances that are this easy, good luck to you. The real story here, though, is the backheel by Piatti. A moment like this is enough to flip me into a second-assist advocate.

42′ — Drogba slots home a rebound for 2-0 — Unlucky carom on the rebound, but you’re really not doing a great job of “don’t give Drogba chances that are that easy,” Union defense.

52′ — Drogba gets his hat trick — The Union are really, really not doing a good job of making life even the least bit difficult for Drogba.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Didier Drogba

Goalscorers: Drogba (19′, 42′, 52′), Pontius (72′), Piatti (87′), Mancosu (90+1′)


Three moments that mattered

21′ — Giovinco ends his skid with a stunning free kick — It had been eight full games since Giovinco last scored a league goal for TFC, by far the longest such streak of his time in MLS. The wait was (almost) worth it. (WATCH HERE)

39′ — Giovinco does it again — What is there to say at this point? The angle is ridiculous. The power is ridiculous. The swerve is ridiculous. Giovinco is a ridiculous player. (WATCH HERE)

90+1′ — A hat trick for Seba — Not to be outdone, Giovinco bags his third of the night.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (21′, 39′, 90+1′), Jeffrey (24′), Delgado (29′)

WATCH: Giovinco’s goal drought is over after a pair of stunning free kicks

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against Colorado Rapids during the first half of the MLS soccer game in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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Oh, how we have missed you, Sebastian Giovinco, scorer of amazingly beautiful, video game-like goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

If you can believe it, Toronto FC’s tiny superstar entered Saturday’s clash with D.C. United without a goal in any of his last eight league games. Six minutes before halftime, the drought was over after not one, but two “only Giovinco could do that” free kicks (videos below).

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

It was by far the longest such streak of Giovinco’s (brief) time in MLS, and at least he had the decency to make it worth our wait.

Scholes: Pogba “nowhere near worth” rumored Man United transfer fee

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United looks on during Paul Scholes' Testimonial Match between Manchester United and New York Cosmos at Old Trafford on August 5, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
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If a player is only worth what a club is willing to pay them, then aren’t they also worth a price at the top of the pay scale, as long as a club is willing to pay it?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Manchester United legend Paul Scholes doesn’t think so, at least not in the case of Paul Pogba, the highly-sought Juventus (and former Man United, which he left for free) midfielder. Rumored to be the subject of $113-million bid by the Red Devils, Pogba’s footballing future remains a question, though an answer will have to be realized in the coming days and/or weeks, as the 2016-17 Premier League season kicks off 21 days from today.

That’s a price that, according to Scholes, should be reserved for “someone who is going to score 50 goals a season like Ronaldo or Messi” — quotes from the Guardian:

“He was a very talented young player, I played with him and I knew how good he was. He played for the first team maybe once or twice, but from my understanding he was asking for too much money [when he left in 2012].

“For his age, he was asking for far too much money, for a player who hasn’t played first-team football. OK, he has gone on to great things. I think certainly there has been a lot of improvement. He needed to improve if he is going to be a player worth £86m.”

While United may have to pay closer to [$131 million], Scholes added: “I just don’t think he is worth [$86 million]. For that sort of money, you want someone who is going to score 50 goals a season like Ronaldo or Messi. Pogba is nowhere worth that kind of money yet.

[ PRESEASON: PL clubs in action with opening day three weeks ago ]

On Scholes’ assertion that Pogba was asking “for far too much money”: United have finished 7th, 4th and 5th in the last three PL seasons, while in that same time Pogba has gone on to become on of the top five players in the world; meanwhile, none of the world’s 20 best (or is it 50?) players currently play for United. It would have been a risk to pay a 19-year-old with three first-team appearances like a seasoned veteran, to be sure, but so much of succeeding at the top level of the sport is down to hitting pay dirt on exactly that kind of calculated risk. If everyone plays it by the book, no one’s ever going to get ahead.

On Scholes’ obviously fear he may no longer be United’s greatest “Paul”: It’s OK, Scholesy, it’ll be terribly difficult to top in 10 years what you achieved in 18.

MLS Snapshot: Portland Timbers 1-2 LA Galaxy (video)

CARSON, CA - MARCH 06:  Robbie Keane #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates after scoring on a penalty kick in the second half of their MLS match against D.C. United at StubHub Center on March 6, 2016 in Carson, California. The Galaxy defeated United 4-1.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are firing on all cylinders these days, having extended their winning streak to four games (six games unbeaten) with a 2-1 victory over the defending MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Saturday. The win sees Bruce Arena’s side move to within two and five points of the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield-leading Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas, respectively (the two sides face one another later on Saturday), while the Timbers miss out on their chance to jump two places, up to fourth, in the West. Back to Saturday’s game, Robbie Keane bagged the 80th goal of his time in MLS (to go with 44 assists, bringing the Irishman’s impressive statline up to 124 goals and assists combined in 118 appearances), but it was Gyasi Zardes who scored the winner, just four minutes after Keane’s opener, in the 11th minute. As I’ve opined the last two weeks, the Galaxy are peaking at the right time of year, and the rest of the league should be terrified.

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

7′ — Keane taps home at the far post — Keane won’t score many goals easier than this one. Giovani dos Santos teed him up, and fortunately for Keane, Nat Borchers dropped his controller as GdS hit his cross.

11′ — Zardes heads home after another defensive breakdown — Zardes has real striker’s instincts. Let’s let him put those to good use, like he did in making the late run to the back post for the Galaxy’s second goal.

41′ — Valentin rolls one past Rowe for 2-1 — The finish from Valentin is nice, but how about Darlington Nagbe with the skill and the vision inside the penalty area to created the space, time and chance?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Robbie Keane

Goalscorers: Keane (7′), Zardes (11′), Valentin (41′)