Will the Dutch return to Total Football against Spain?

Four years ago in South Africa, the Dutch made an unexpected and incredible run to the World Cup Final.  Led by playmakers like Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, the Netherlands played an attractive brand of football that took the Orange Army back to the glory days of Total Football.  With Spain’s renowned tiki-taka, fans were looking forward to the beautiful game at its most pleasing.

What fans got in the 2010 World Cup Final was one of the more shocking cynical displays in the history of the sport.  The Netherlands realized they couldn’t match Spain’s possession and passing and instead tried to scratch and claw and hack out a victory.  The defining moment for the Netherlands in the Final was this Nigel de Jong karate kick to the sternum of Xabi Alonso that’s a long way from the Cruyff Turn:

The 2010 World Cup Final wasn’t just a defeat for the Netherlands, it was a defeat for soccer purists to see such anti-football being played.  It was a game that the likes of Jose Mourinho and Nick Saban would adore.  The Spanish press even hailed their victory as “poetic justice.”

Today features a rematch of that Final as Spain and the Netherlands face off in their first match of Group B.  While Spain has seen their form dip a bit as teams have started to figure out how to play against them and age creeps in, the bigger question is what to make of this Dutch team.

As we outlined in our Group B Preview, the Dutch feature veteran attacking players that can light up Brazil, but are young and inexperienced at the back.  So will we see another cynical gameplan from new Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal or will the Dutch return to their Total Football ethos and throw caution to the wind?

The truth is likely… neither.  Although the Netherlands may not employ any karate kicks this year to slow down Spain, they don’t really have the capability to play with too much dramatic flair.  All indications are that Van Gaal will put 3 centerbacks onto the field and 2 wingbacks to push numbers behind the ball and support what could be a shaky defense throughout the tournament.

However, all hope is not lost even though the Netherlands are valuing protecting their own goal first.  As Real Madrid showed against Barcelona and Bayern Munich this year, the counterattack can be one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in soccer today.  Just take a look at these two goals from the European season and look at what damage pace and precision can do on the counter.

Top teams and interntaional sides are understanding how to play effectively without possession and making the most of their counter-attacking opportunities.  You don’t need to hold the ball for 89 minutes in order to try to score anymore.  Even though the Netherlands don’t have Ronaldo and Bale, their attackers are still world class.  With the likes of Van Persie, Sneijder, and Robben up front – look for the Netherlands to take every opportunity they can on the break.

It may not be Total Football, but it may be a strategy that can see the Netherlands avenge their 2010 World Cup Final defeat versus Spain.