By Stefan Coerts | Dutch Football Writer
Even though expectations in Netherlands ahead of Euro 2012 were perhaps unrealistically high, nobody would have expected Oranje to crash out of the tournament without even grabbing a single point in Poland and Ukraine.
It was therefore inevitable that Bert van Marwijk would leave his position as national team coach after the disastrous Dutch campaign. The former Feyenoord boss made way for Louis van Gaal, who returned to the Oranje bench after a previous unsuccessful spell between 2000 and 2002.
The flamboyant coach was handed the difficult task of reuniting a team that had imploded at the Euros, while also bringing in a number of promising youngsters to replace those who were past their prime.
While it remains to be seen whether Van Gaal will be able to repair all the damage that was done this summer, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach is not wasting any time in giving his side a new look as he has called up numerous new faces to the squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Belgium.
He has even gone as far as to drop four out of the seven defenders who travelled to Euro 2012, with the uncapped Ricardo van Rhijn, Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi and Nick Viergever taking the places of Khalid Boulahrouz, Wilfred Bouma, Ron Vlaar and Gregory van der Wiel.
|INS AND OUTS | Changes to the Oranje squad
|Ricardo van Rhijn||Ajax||Khald Boulahrouz||Sporting|
|Stefan de Vrij
||Gregory van der Wiel
|Bruno Martins Indi||Feyenoord||Ron Vlaar||Aston Villa|
|Nick Viergever||AZ||Wilfred Bouma||PSV|
|Adam Maher||AZ||Mark van Bommel||PSV|
|Urby Emanuelson||AC Milan||Stijn Schaars||Sporting|
|Bas Dost||Wolfsburg||Luuk de Jong||Monchengladbach|
The omission of the latter in particular comes as quite a surprise as the Ajax right-back had been an undisputed starter in recent years. Nevertheless, there have been question-marks about Van der Wiel’s attitude and commitment, and Van Gaal has used the 24-year-old as an example to prove that he is not afraid to drop more experienced players in favour of young talent.
Van Gaal has made less rigorous changes in midfield - for now. Mark van Bommel was dropped as expected, while Stijn Schaars was axed from the squad as well. However, Nigel de Jong and Rafael van der Vaart are still part of the national team, and Wesley Sneijder remains a key figure, too. There is plenty of talent ready to make the step up, though. PSV star Kevin Strootman is likely to become a regular in the not too distant figure, while Adam Maher is expected to make his debut against Belgium. Furthermore, Jordy Clasie and Leroy Fer are on the verge of breaking into Netherlands' senior team.
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In attack, the flamboyant trainer has opted for usual suspects such as Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay. However, there is room for young talent too, with both Luciano Narsingh and Bas Dost making the cut. Luuk de Jong and Ola John might have missed out this time around, but there is little doubt that a bright future in Oranje awaits them, too.
Van Gaal’s selection for the friendly against Belgium was already a clear signal that he is not afraid to make significant changes, and the 61-year-old further confirmed his intention to re-shuffle the Oranje set-up on Tuesday.
Not only did he announce that Sneijder has been appointed as the team’s new captain, but he also revealed that Netherlands will return to their traditional 4-3-3 formation, as opposed to Van Marwijk’s preferred 4-2-3-1.
Additionally, Van Gaal made it clear that Huntelaar will be his first-choice striker for now, condemning Arsenal star Van Persie to a spot on the bench following his disappointing performances at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
The experienced coach has thus done what was expected of him: shake things up a bit. Although his decisions will undoubtedly lead to plenty of criticism if things go wrong, one can only applaud Van Gaal’s courage to make the changes he feels are necessary to get his country back on track.
All he needs now is a string of good results to win over his critics, and what better way to start than with a win over Belgium?