Netherlands 3-0 Estonia
Since this is a new year and the national team won't have a competitive fixture before the World Cup, it seems a good time to look back on the Netherlands' performances of 2013 and determine whether Brazil will be more 2010 or 2012. So I looked back on every match that's available on ESPN3, and here are my initial impressions throughout the 2014 qualification process. If you want to read my thoughts on the qualifiers from 2012, you can read them here and here.
We pick things up at home against Estonia on March 22nd.
The Netherlands walked away with a comfortable, yet uninspiring 3-0 win. Rafael van der Vaart scored the opener in the 47th minute, Robin van Persie doubled the lead in the 72nd minute and Ruben Schaken added another in the 84th.
Estonia only managed four shots the entire game, two of which were on target. The Netherlands, on the other hand, had 14 and seven, respectively. Rarely were the Dutch not in the Estonian half. They were often constricted to a 20-yard patch in front of the the 18-yard box, though, and couldn't break down the defense. It made for a rather drab match, especially in the first half, before Louis van Gaal made his halftime adjustments that opened up the game.
After matches like these, it's much harder to be encouraged than it is to be discouraged. Estonia aren't a good side, so a one-sided win is the expectation.
While the Netherlands earned the three points, it wasn't a win that bolstered your hopes for the World Cup.
—I can't say enough about the performances of both Jeremain Lens and Daryl Janmaat. Although Lens would sometimes swap with Arjen Robben and move to the left at times, he spend most of the match in front of Janmaat on the right flank.
Since the Netherlands controlled so much of the game, both full-backs had license to get forward. Lens' movement often opened up the flank for Janmaat. The then-PSV winger was running at goal and dropping into the midfield, which in turned forced the left-back to follow him. This allowed Janmaat a little more space to run down the right.
This wasn't better exemplified than in the Netherlands' first goal of the match.
Here you see Lens (red square) laying the ball off to Janmaat (yellow circle). Just look how much space the right-back has to operate up the pitch.
|via ESPN3 broadcast|
|via ESPN3 broadcast|
—Wesley Sneijder was making his return from injury, taking the captain's armband back from Kevin Strootman, and it was a return to forget. He left the game in the 36th minute after picking up a knock, with van der Vaart replacing him.
In general, Sneijder was pretty poor. He tried a couple of long shots that were wasteful, and he should've scored in the 26th minute. Daley Blind delivered a nice cross into the box, which was headed on by Robin van Persie. Sneijder simply mishit the shot, as it went wide of goal. That had been the team's first real scoring chance, and it should've put the Dutch up 1-0.
—In matches like these, the defenders can have a tough time. They have so little to do for so long that they can fall asleep at the most inopportune times. You saw that a couple of times with the back four. The most glaring was in the 79th minute. Martin Vunk was played on by Blind, and he had a free run at goal. He should've scored to make it 2-1, but his shot sailed high of the target.
On the whole, Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij played well, but they had those moments that gave you pause and reason for concern when the Dutch face tougher competition.
—Arjen Robben was held relatively in check. He had a couple of nice runs and cuts inside on goal. For the most part, though, the Bayern Munich winger seemed stuck in his own form of purgatory. With the pitch so compact, Robben didn't have a lot of space to use his speed and beat the defender. He wasn't a complete non-factor, but he could've done more in this match.
—The biggest problem in this match was how bereft of ideas the Dutch looked at times. They passed circles around Estonia, but they were unable to get much through the middle of the pitch. It's the same thing you see with Spain when they face sides that bunker in.
There's a fine line between patience and ineffectiveness, and the Netherlands were toeing it. You can only pass laterally and backwards so many times before it becomes way too counterproductive.
One of the adjustments van Gaal made at halftime looked to be an increased width. Most of what the Dutch created were from wide areas, whether it was Robben and Blind down the left or Janmaat and Lens down the right. Give credit where credit is due, as LVG noted the problem and fixed it.
But surely I'm not the only one who was less than impressed with the way the Netherlands performed against Estonia.