'Netherlands not a fantastic team' – Van Gaal

The veteran coach freely admits that he is not in possession of the best side on the planet but says their unity and sense of togetherness could still propel them to glory

Louis van Gaal insists that while Netherlands “are not a fantastic team” they are capable of winning World Cup 2014 because they are “difficult to beat”.

The Dutch have won all four of the games that they have played in Brazil so far, having kicked off their campaign with a stunning 5-1 demolition of defending champions Spain, and are heavily expected to defeat quarter-final opponents Costa Rica in Salvador on Saturday.

Netherlands have nonetheless been criticised for the quality of their performances since routing la Roja but Van Gaal feels that the Oranje’s achievement in reaching the last eight has to be put into context.

“The Dutch media didn’t even expect us to get this far,” he told reporters at Arena Fonte Nova on Friday. “Everything we are achieving here should be fantastic for the Dutch media. But that’s not the issue.

“Our goal has always been to become world champions. We have always said that we are a team that is difficult to beat.

“We’re not a fantastic team but we are difficult to beat. We’ve shown that so far and I hope that we can continue that all the way to the final.

“Perhaps I am underestimating my team but we have always said that the best or most fantastic team is not going to win. The best 23 players will be champions.

“And, in this squad, we all have one goal. We’re all supporting and complementing one another. That is what the Dutch team is: 23 players.

“We have achieved outstanding results. And that will remain the case even if we lose this quarter-final. But this Dutch team will fight until the very last minute to try to be world champions.”

Van Gaal also argued that the fact that Netherlands have twice been forced to come from behind to win in Brazil shows just how united and versatile they are.

“Playing better the longer the game goes has got to do that the opponent, who has to play against a particular formation for 60 minutes and then change when we change,” he explained.

“It’s easy for us to change because it’s in our blood. So if you fine-tune things, vary up the length of the passes, the tactics, you can turn around a game.

“Sometimes luck plays a part, of course, but it’s also got to do with what we’re doing and taking our chances.

“I think we are one of the best countries at this World Cup at this, if not the best. And we have certain individual skills to go with that as well.”

However, Van Gaal admitted that he does not have a ready-made replacement for defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong, who has been ruled out of the remainder of the tournament with a groin injury.

“It will be difficult to replace him because Nigel is very important player for us,” the incoming Manchester United boss conceded.

“He’s an key element of our initial pressure on the ball and it’s very difficult to find a replacement because he has attributes that the other players don’t have.”

Van Gaal, though, is at least buoyed by the continued excellence of Wesley Sneijder, whose form and fitness had been the subject of much debate going into the World Cup.

“He was in a great physical shape when he arrived [for the country’s preparations], which I was pleasantly surprised about,” the Champions League-winning coach confessed.

“He’s a key part of the starting line-up and he’s making a contribution. He’s one of the five so-called older players who are leading this team, along with Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and Nigel, and I’m very pleased with him.

“He’s showing his value to us. I was not surprised by Wesley’s goal [against Mexico]. He has this fantastic technique.

“If we have a free kick tomorrow [Saturday] and he scores one, I won’t be surprised because he scored five in training!”

Van Gaal also revealed that he once again plans to wear his “lucky charm” for the game against Costa Rica, having worn a colourful bracelet in the win over Mexico.

“The children of the head of the department of the sponsoring ING bank made it for me,” he explained. “I was given the bracelet by her and I promised to wear it.

“I’ll continue wear it in my capacity as coach of the Dutch team… So that’ll be for another three matches as you know!”

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