The Netherlands may not have such outstanding stars as they did at the 2014 World Cup, but Louis van Gaal believes that the overall quality of his team in Qatar is better.
Van Gaal, who was generally in a good mood when he announced the Netherlands’ game against Ecuador, led the Dutch to the semi-finals eight years ago.
Memphis Depay, Daley Blind and Stéphane de Vrey are the only players to have played for Van Gaal in 2014, while the rest of the Orange players in Qatar were World Cup debutants.
While their team lacks leaders Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, who were at Van Gaal’s disposal in Brazil, the Netherlands coach believes his 2022 squad has more to offer across the board.
With Germany and Argentina losing their opening matches, there is a possibility of a tie starting and Van Gaal sees no reason why his team cannot benefit.
“I didn’t see all the matches, but the fact that Germany and Argentina lost says a lot, but I always say that it’s easier to defend than to attack,” he said at a press conference.
“I heard that Germany missed a lot of chances and then lost. It has to do with team discipline. That’s why I say this band is great.
— OnsOranje (@OnsOranje) November 24, 2022
“It is they who must put this into practice, follow my instructions for 90 minutes. If they don’t work as well, you put in the next player to do their best.
“Our average quality is higher than in 2014. I’m not talking about the best players we had at the time, maybe Memphis is at that level and can reach that level, and maybe Frenkie de Jong.
“But then the outcome of the matches was decided by players like Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder. So it was.
“Now in our team the average is much higher. Strikers like Memphis [Steven] Bergwijn, [Cody] Gakpo. I hope it will be a pleasant surprise.”
Depay only came on as a substitute against Senegal on Monday, as the Barcelona striker was recovering from injury and lack of playing time at club level.
Van Gaal is unsure if the 28-year-old can start against Ecuador.
“With Memphis, he trained in Amsterdam, and it was individual,” he added. “Now he needs to train with the team.
“We increased the intensity, now he plays 30 minutes. He doesn’t cling to problems too much. We move on to the next step, which is 45 minutes.
“We are trying to extend it because the injury he has suffered makes it very difficult to decide when he can start.
“He’s quite an extraordinary player, which is why I gave up my principles because I think he’s incredibly important.”
Gakpo and Davy Klaassen scored goals in a victory over Senegal, while the Netherlands scored two different players in their first World Cup match for the first time since Wim Jonk and Gaston Taument did so against Saudi Arabia in 1994.
Depay is the only player to have scored in both of his first two World Cup matches for the Netherlands, although Van Gaal believes PSV striker Gakpo, who is having a good season, has what it takes to become a superstar.
“He is a player with a lot of talent and potential, but he is young and still developing, he has a lot of room for improvement,” Van Gaal said.
“He is a person who does whatever it takes. It is possible that he can become a star.