One down, two to go: Netherlands seek to kill World Cup demons | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 09.07.2014
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One down, two to go: Netherlands seek to kill World Cup demons

Good things don't really come in threes in the Netherlands. Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1978 and Spain in 2010: three World Cup finals, all defeats. But the Oranje could lay all these ghosts to rest in Brazil.

Four is the magic number, not three, for the Netherlands and Germany alike in this World Cup. While Germany seek their fourth title, Louis van Gaal's side are battling for a spot in their fourth final, and ultimately for a maiden World Cup win. Should they manage it, the Dutch could vanquish several old specters of defeat at a single stroke.

The Dutch began their Brazilian journey in Salvador against Spain, playing the very side that triumphed four years ago in South Africa. Despite conceding the opening goal, van Gaal's counterattacking crew ran out 5-1 winners, propelled by a combined four goals from captain Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben.

WM 2014 Gruppe B 1. Spieltag Spanien Niederlande

Van Persie and friends helped light the World Cup touch-paper on day 2 against Spain

The Netherlands sought to play down the importance of their opening-day sensation, with Robben emphasizing: "We've not won anything yet." This bite-size chunk of revenge for the defeat at Soccer City in Johannesburg satisfied nobody: three measly group stage points were the bounty, not the star now finally adorning Spain's jerseys.

Yet since smashing Spain, the Netherlands have not lost a game. Costa Rica's watertight back-five and offside trap - a defensive setup more than a little reminiscent of the one adopted at short notice by van Gaal for this competition - came closest to stifling the Netherlands, taking them all the way to penalties. Winning this game buried an old Dutch demon, too - it was the first time the side had ever won any World Cup match that went to penalties.

WM 2014 Viertelfinale Niederlande Costa Rica Elfmeterschiessen

Trash-talking Tim Krul came on to play the pantomime villain and break the Dutch duck from the spot

Stage set for Argentina, then Germany?

While van Gaal's rather unusual Oranje outfit made heavy work of Mexico and Costa Rica, Germany and Argentina set up a dream draw for the Netherlands by themselves progressing. The Albiceleste defeated the Netherlands, on home soil, in the 1978 final. Four years before that, the class of Johan Cruyff, Wim Jansen and Ruud Krol came up short in Munich against West Germany's man-of-the-match Gerd Müller.

Fußball UEFA Pokal 1974 Niederlande gegen Deutschland

Forty years on, could the final repeat itself?

So Germany's 7-1 drubbing of hosts Brazil not only offered the Netherlands the chance of three separate courses of World Cup final revenge - presumably served either cold, or somehow in toastie form with sliced cheese - it also spared them the prospect of yet another final played in front of a hostile crowd against a host nation.

Argentina, and indeed Germany should the Netherlands progress, are liable to offer more of an attacking test than Costa Rica in the quarters. But that could play into the hands of an Oranje team coach van Gaal has called perhaps the best outfit at the World Cup when working against the ball. This is one of many aspects of this year's Dutch side which almost seem an affront to the country's football heritage: the five-man back line, the lack of real string-pullers in midfield, laborious triumphs, trash-talking goalkeepers, and a tournament win that went beyond 90 minutes.

Part myth-buster and part magician, van Gaal could complete the reinvention altogether with the most uncharacteristic result of all for his country: a World Cup. To get there, the 62-year-old could claim revenge for two defeats dating back to his own playing days. With Kevin Strootman injured, Robin van Persie advancing in years, and a tough group beckoning, van Gaal's World Cup adventure looked little more than a Manchester United prelude a month ago. He's now 180 minutes away from drawing the Netherlands level with England in the silverware tallies, before making his move to Old Trafford.

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