Louis van Gaal and his inspired substitution, Tim Krul, have dominated the headlines following Holland’s thrilling World Cup quarter-final shoot-out victory over Costa Rica, but one man in particular has epitomised the Dutch’s ruthless endeavour and helped inspire a nation.
The former Liverpool striker and converted Oranje wing-back, Dirk Kuyt, after having been a peripheral figure in the Netherlands set-up when the tournament began in June, is now an integral part of Van Gaal’s master-plan.
Back in his days of being a top goalscorer playing in his home country for Feyenoord, Kuyt has since been used as a utility man because of his hard work and ability to carry out his defensive responsibilities. He failed to play a single minute in Holland's opening two victories of the competition but he was thrust into the mix for the Group B decider against Chile, which they ended up winning comfortably 2-0.
Injuries forced the new Manchester United manager to deploy Kuyt as a wing-back which bemused and baffled the majority of onlookers, but once again Van Gaal’s bold decision making came good as he continues to demonstrate just how to get the best out of a mediocre squad.
Kuyt, seemingly a man of all trades, went about his work efficiently and effectively, tirelessly charging up and down the flank and his energetic presence in the humid conditions has been key to how the Dutch have attacked.
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His enthusiasm and passion seems to rub off on his team-mates and inspire them, but the man himself was full of praise for his manager and refused to complain about being played out of position.
“He’s maybe the best tactically there is in the world,” Kuyt told Sport24.
“It doesn’t matter what system we are playing the players know exactly what to do.”
The Fenerbahce forward also, following their roller-coaster ride against Costa Rica, was very pleased with the way his fellow teammates handled the pressure of penalties and he believes this could well be the year that the three-time runners-up are finally crowned champions.
Kuyt on penalties
“To be honest, when it comes down to taking the penalty, you don’t think about that [being tired],” he said on the Evening Standard.
“You’ve just got so much adrenaline in your body. There’s a lot of pressure though, so you try to focus only on taking the penalty. Basically, you feel nothing, and in that moment it’s decided whether those 120 minutes of running have all been worth it or not.
“The players took the penalties very well, one by one, and then Tim worked his magic. He was intimidating the opposition players and gave it his all. That’s part of the strength of this squad. We have 23 players and they’re all very good at what they do. Any time the manager needs them, they are there. We proved once again that we’re not doing it with only 11 players. We are all one team — one team with one goal.
“I think we played a very good game — the ball just didn’t want to go in. Normally, with the positions that our forwards were in, we would have scored five or six. But sometimes that happens in football.
“I’m just so proud of this team because we didn’t give up for a second, neither in regular time nor in extra time — and not at all during the penalties.
“I think we showed, during those 120 minutes as well as in the shoot-out, that we really wanted to win this game and continue to the semi-finals. And finally we got what we deserved.”
The Netherlands vs Argentina
The Netherlands now face an even sterner test against Argentina and Lionel Messi during Wednesday’s semi-final in Sao Paulo. They will certainly be looking to expose a less than convincing Dutch back line, although they have not lived up to their pre-tournament billing as second favourites to lift the trophy thus far.
However that won’t distract the Dutch from their task, Kuyt added: “Argentina are a world-class team and they deserve to be in the last four. We want to measure ourselves against the best, and not only measure — but win. That’s why we’re here. The semi-finals are fantastic but we know what it feels like to lose a World Cup, and we would love to win it. That’s our goal.”
As somewhat of a dark horse in the team, Kuyt has been pivotal and while his work may have gone unnoticed with some fans, the coaching set-up in the Netherlands squad and his teammates will know just how crucial he has been to their inspired form.
With a tricky game coming up against Argentina on the horizon his ‘never say die’ attitude will be a key asset in helping the team spirit and maintaining their desire. But whatever happens it has been a tournament to remember for the Oranje’s hardest working individual.
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