Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Holland boss Louis van Gaal leaves Manchester United fans drooling

Pivotal moment: Dutch star Arjen Robben is sent tumbling by Rafael Marquez of Mexico for the match-deciding penalty yesterday
Pivotal moment: Dutch star Arjen Robben is sent tumbling by Rafael Marquez of Mexico for the match-deciding penalty yesterday

Manchester United can wait. Louis van Gaal won't be rocking up to Old Trafford for a little while yet.

United fans need not worry. After the horrors of last season under David Moyes, watching van Gaal at work in Brazil will fill them full of confidence for the coming campaign, no matter when he arrives.

It could be Fergie time all over again. Yesterday Van Gaal's Holland were just like United with Sir Alex at the helm. Never beaten. Never bowed.

And just like Ferguson's Red Devils, van Gaal's Oranje men came good in the end.

Trailing 1-0 to a splendid second half strike from Giovani Dos Santos, and being frustrated by the brilliance of Guillermo Ochoa in the Mexico goal, Holland's World Cup hopes were in jeopardy.

Entering the dying moments, previous Dutch teams, whose players liked each other about as much as Uruguay and Fifa, would have given up the ghost feeling the world was against them, but this one has a spirit and togetherness, drilled into them by the boss, to go with all the talent.

Hence the dramatic late comeback with Wesley Sneijder smashing home an equaliser on 88 minutes and substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar helping Holland to a memorable 2-1 victory with a clinical injury time penalty.

As Mexico waved farewell to Brazil, Dutch dreams of finally winning a World Cup were still alive. The current side may not have the entertainment value of the Total Football heroes from the 1970s, but they appear to have a stronger mentality which could prove to be more important.

In the group stages, van Gaal's players revealed a ruthless nature when hammering holders Spain 5-1, an ability to get the job done in defeating Australia 3-2 and a clever tactical approach to overcome Chile 2-0.

Yesterday was all about character combined with class to get themselves out of jail with a clever substitution thrown in by the boss for good measure.

It was a huge call by van Gaal to replace his kingpin, his captain and someone he views as an adopted son, but taking off the largely ineffective Robin van Persie for Huntelaar on 76 minutes turned out to be masterstroke.

First Huntelaar set up Sneijder to level and then kept his cool, amid the soaring temperatures, to strike home the winning penalty.

No surprise that Arjen Robben won the spot-kick for the first European team into the last eight. The Bayern Munich winger made more appeals inside the area than you would see at a Lord's Test match. He was bound to get one eventually.

Flying Dutchman. Diving Dutchman. Annoying Dutchman. He's all of them. More than anything, though, he has been the dynamic Dutchman.

Make no mistake about it with Robben, van Gaal and this new found team spirit, Holland are genuine contenders.

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