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A Dutch dream disappeared into the cloudy skies of A Cidade da Garoa (The City of Drizzle) on Wednesday evening. Javier Mascherano‘s bewildering block in extra time, and Sergio Romero’s dexterity in the shootout, spared Argentina and prevented Netherlands reaching a fourth FIFA World Cup™ Final.
Louis van Gaal and his Oranje brigade can nevertheless achieve something the Johan Cruyff-inspired team of 1974, the machine Messrs Krol, Haan, Rep and Neeskens decorated four years later and Bert van Marwijk’s class of 2010 didn’t. They can, after all, become the first Dutch side to finish a FIFA World Cup undefeated – and that is something that the 62-year-old coach, in his last match at his country’s controls before assuming charge of Manchester United, is desperate to achieve against Brazil in the play-off for third place.
"It was very, very sad and a dream has been broken,” Van Gaal said. “It’s not going to come back because it was all about being number one. But there is still something for us to do. We can still write history because the Netherlands lost matches in 1974, 1978 and 2010.
“Slowly but surely we are realising that we have to go for it. A Dutch team has never returned home unbeaten and that is now our aim. It’s going to be part of my speech that it will be my last match and I hope the players want to give me a present in the form of a victory, so that we remain undefeated.”
“I hope I can prepare them to play a good match. It’s quite something to go seven matches unbeaten [in a World Cup].”
Many members of this young Netherlands squad will likely have the chance to play in the FIFA World Cup again. By contrast, its oldest member, 33-year-old Dirk Kuyt, will quit international football after the tournament. The striker-turned-midfielder-turned-full-back, who is fifth on Netherlands’ most-capped players list, is eager to erase the sorrow suffered in Brazil’s biggest city with satisfaction in its capital.
“In football there is always a next match,” Kuyt said. “We want to win here, return unbeaten and with a feeling that we have given everything here. We want to leave this tournament with a good feeling. We still won’t be satisfied but this is the way we have to look at things as top athletes. Third place will feel a lot better than fourth place.”