Netherlands’ all-time World Cup XI

After covering Brazil’s all-time World Cup XI yesterday I thought I would create a similar dream team for the Oranje. Now bear in mind that this is an all-time XI based on performances at the World Cup, which means that the Netherlands’ A.C. Milan-based “holy trinity” of the late 1980s and early ’90s (Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten) do not feature. It’s bizarre to contemplate really, considering they would walk into a Dutch dream team if this criterion was not in effect. Gullit was plagued by a knee injury in 1990 and was on strike in 1994. Astonishingly van Basten failed to register a single goal at Italia ’90, his only appearance at the finals, while Rijkaard’s abiding contribution to the 1990 campaign was spitting in Rudi Völler’s hair [see here]. Other notable omissions from the starting XI include Jaap Stam, Arie Haan, Patrick Kluivert and Robin van Persie.

That said this Dutch XI are an impressive bunch, boasting plenty of firepower in attack and out wide, and should their forwards fail to shine there is plenty of creativity at the back to make amends. This lot would even give the Brazilians a close game, although without the talents of Gullit, Rijkaard and van Basten they may just fall short of achieving such a feat.

 Manager: Rinus Michels
Formation: 3-5-2

Edwin van der Sar
2. rudi krol Ronald Koeman 3. frank de boer
7. johnny rep Netherlands v Slovakia: 2010 FIFA World Cup - Round of Sixteen 14. johan cruyff 5. johan neeskens 11. arjen robben
9. rob rensenbrink 10. dennis bergkamp

GK: Edwin van der Sar (1998 & 2006)

Although he was included in the Netherlands’ squad for the 1994 World Cup, Edwin van der Sar did not play a single minute. By 1998 though van der Sar was firmly established as the Dutch number one as the Netherlands made it all the way to the semi-finals, where they lost out to Brazil on penalties. Van der Sar was unfortunate not to make the All-Star team as he pulled off some important saves during the knockout stages.

He, like the rest of his Dutch teammates, missed out on the 2002 World Cup after failing to qualify from a group including Portugal and the Republic of Ireland.

CB: Ruud Krol (1974 & 1978)

Ruud (or “Rudi”) Krol was one of the finest defenders of his generation. Like his two fellow teammates in this defence, Krol was comfortable in the sweeper role. At the 1974 World Cup Krol played predominately at left-back, from where he assisted Johan Cruyff’s wonder goal against Brazil. He also got on the scoresheet against Argentina, scoring a screamer from 25 yards out.

In Argentina four years later he switched to the role of sweeper, as the Dutch yet again made it to the final. In the absence of Cruyff, Krol wore the captain’s armband. He had an impressive tournament, being selected for the All-Star team for his troubles.

CB: Ronald Koeman (1990 & 1994)

Apart from being a rock at the back, Ronald Koeman was also renowned for his attacking prowess. Should there be a lack of creativity in this Dutch side (seriously, like that’s gonna happen with this lot) Koeman’s long-range accuracy from free-kicks could save the day for the Netherlands.

Koeman was part of the second great Dutch side of the late 1980s/early ’90s, after the side of 1974/78. He represented the Netherlands at Italia ’90 and USA ’94 as the Dutch failed to make an impact at either. Koeman played in that classic quarter-final clash between the Dutch and Brazil which ended 3-2 in favour of the South Americans.

CB: Frank de Boer (1994 & 1998)

A very capable defender in an impressive back three for this Dutch all-time XI, Frank de Boer’s finest moment at the World Cup was not a defensive play but rather an assist.

In the dying minutes of the Netherlands’ quarter-final clash with Argentina with the scores deadlocked at 1-1, extra-time seemed imminent. With the ball at his feet in his own half, de Boer looked up and delivered a 60-yard pass up to the forward line. On the receiving end was Dennis Bergkamp who controlled the ball like only he can before putting it in the net. De Boer featured in the 1998 All-Star team.

CM: Wesley Sneijder (2006, 2010 & 2014)

He hit the woodwork twice last night against Costa Rica but it is Wesley Sneijder’s performances in South Africa four years ago that warrant his admission into the Netherlands’ greatest World Cup XI.

At his first World Cup in 2006 he started all four of the Netherlands’ games but failed to make much of a splash. In 2010 he was in impervious form, scoring five goals, including two against Brazil in the quarters, which downed the five-time champions. He was awarded four man-of-the-match awards but was powerless to help the Dutch in the final. Despite not winning gold he was included in the All-Star team, won the Silver Ball and Bronze Boot.

CM: Johan Neeskens (1974 & 1978)

The other Johan of the great 1974 Dutch side, it would be unfair to say that’s all Johan Neeskens was. The conductor in midfield, Neeskens made sure the Netherlands ticked. That said, he could score a goal or too. At the 1974 World Cup he netted five times, including the penalty which gave the Dutch a short-lived lead in the final.

Four years later in 1978 his presence was all the more crucial in the absence of Johan Cruyff. Despite not scoring he helped the Netherlands to a second successive final.

RW: Johnny Rep (1974 & 1978)

“Johnny who?” Many of you may be asking such a question but Johnny Rep merits his inclusion in this all-time XI as the Netherlands’ all-time World Cup goalscorer, with seven.

A member of both the 1974 and 1978 sides, Rep scored four goals in West Germany and another three in Argentina.

AM: Johan Cruyff (1974) [CAPTAIN]

He only played at one World Cup but boy did he make an impression. Johan Cruyff’s performances in 1974 were nothing short of majestic [see here]. As part of the Netherlands’ all-conquering side in West Germany, Cruyff was captain, talisman and star man.

Cruyff’s finest hour was probably the Netherlands’ 4-0 rout of Argentina, a game in which Cruyff scored two of his three World Cup goals. He won the penalty that gave the Dutch the lead in the final but was powerless to prevent the hosts from turning the tide and lifting the brand new World Cup trophy. Cruyff was voted player of the tournament for his performances.

LW: Arjen Robben (2006, 2010 & 2014)

Much maligned for his theatrics and for hitting the deck quicker than a legless pirate, Arjen Robben is at the end of it all an incredibly talented footballer. It is his performances at this year’s World Cup which sees his inclusion into this starting XI.

Robben has already found the back of the net three times in Brazil, adding to his three previous World Cup goals, and was hugely influential in the Netherlands’ 5-1 demolition of the holders Spain. Despite being 30 years old it seems as if age is not catching up on the left-footed winger, as his burst of speed to beat Sergio Ramos can attest to; he was clocked running at 37 km/h. Astonishing!

CF: Rob Rensenbrink (1974 & 1978)

One cannot help but feel that Rob Rensenbrink is the nearly man of Dutch football. 1974 was Cruyff’s hour, just as Euro ’88 will forever be remembered for Marco van Basten’s outrageous volley. The 1978 World Cup final could well have been remembered as Rensenbrink’s finest hour.

A member of the 1974 side, it wasn’t until 1978 that Rensenbrink truly shone. In the absence of Cruyff, it was Rensenbrink that took centre stage as part of a three-man attack including Johnny Rep and René van de Kerkhof. Five goals at the 1978 World Cup, including goal number 1,000 of the tournament’s history, should have been six. In the dying seconds of the final, the scores tied at 1-1, Rudi Krol’s pass found Rensenbrink, whose shot from a tight angle hit the post. Had he scored, Rensenbrink would have won the final for the Dutch, who fell 3-1 in extra-time to the host nation yet again.

CF: Dennis Bergkamp (1994 & 1998)

Dennis Nicolaas Bergkamp is the most technically gifted footballer the Netherlands has ever produced, and, by virtue of this, the world has seen. In the absence of Marco van Basten through injury, Bergkamp was charged with leading the Netherlands’ attack at the 1994 World Cup. Bergkamp bagged three before the Dutch exited to Brazil in the quarter-finals.

Four years later in France, the Netherlands were among the pre-favourites and despite not shining in the group stages they made it all the way to the semis, with Bergkamp scoring three times. In the quarter-final against Argentina, Bergkamp scored the most aesthetically pleasing goal in World Cup history.

In scoring that goal, Bergkamp became the Netherlands’ record goalscorer and saw his side advance. Bergkamp featured in the All-Star team alongside Frank de Boer and Edgar Davids.

By Eoghan Wallace


One thought on “Netherlands’ all-time World Cup XI

  1. Not surprised that you put a lot of players from the 1970s on the list…to be honest, even I would admit that they were the better team in 1974. I guess if the tournament hadn’t been hosted in Germany, they would have won. But then, the German line-up was not that bad either.

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