For the Dutch squad, the tournament began so brightly but will end with a match the coach thinks is pointless and which the team is not really interested in playing.
They began preparations in Sao Paulo on Thursday, a day after they lost to Argentina in a painful penalty shootout in the semifinals. This marked another missed opportunity for the team.
The third-place march is slated for Saturday when they will play against the host Brazil.
”They can keep it,” Arjen Robben said of the third-place game. ”Only one prize counts and that is becoming world champion.”
The gloomy preparations involved light workouts under the dreary skies and in the drizzle at Pacaembu Stadium. It lasted for less than one hour after which they disappeared back down a flight of stairs into the dressing room.
Even hearty cheers from some Brazilians as they arrived for the training session did not help much.
Just a month ago, their star was bright; especially after they beat Spain 5-1 in a march that made them to be announced as the team to watch at the World Cup.
This glory faded gradually and they only managed two goals in three games in the knockout stage. They had no goal at eh quarter finals and the semifinals.
Louis van Gaal, the team coach also acknowledged the fact that the team had initially been praised as the best in the tournament raising their hopes, but he admitted that it has now counted for noting in the end.
Louis is taking Netherlands one more time before he moves on to a new challenge with Manchester United.
The elimination in a shootout on Wednesday night means the crucial Dutch stats now read: “Three World Cup finals, two semifinals, still no titles”.
”In general, I’m not really interested in what people say about me and my team,” Van Gaal said of the semifinal defeat. ”It’s a good thing if people are very positive … but the issue in a championship like this one is that you score one more goal than your opponent, which we didn’t do.”
The coach will get very little joy from his last game with the team. He has campaigned for ten years to have the third-place game scrapped off from the World Cup. He maintains it is meaningless and only drains the players who are already disappointed.
”I think that this match should never be played,” Van Gaal said. ”I’ve been saying this for 10 years. But anyway, we will just have to play that match.”
But what actually went wrong for the Netherlands this time? First it was the young and inexperienced defense which was even doubted ahead of the World Cup, then the attack which had collapsed after they beat Spain.
Captain Robin van Persie and forward Arjen Robben didn’t score in the knockout games.The Van Persie-Robben generation seems set to finish World Cup empty handed. Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder are all 30 years old, and having lost in South Africa four years ago and in the semifinals in Brazil, 2018 may be too far away for them to have another try.
Robben said losing is as much a part of football as winning. ”You’re a footballer and sportsman and a defeat hurts, especially when you’re so close to the final,” he added. ”That is painful but … it’s all part of it.”