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?

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone