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The International Break: Focus On The Netherlands

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2014 World Cup Qualification

National Team: The Netherlands
Also known as: Holland, the Dutch, oranje (supposedly "The Flying Dutchmen," but I think wiki made that up)
Confederation: UEFA
Group: D
Opponents: Turkey, Hungary, Romania, Estonia, Andorra
Qualification thus far: Begins Friday, September 7
This week: Netherlands v Turkey
Key Players: Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie
Villans in Holland: Ron Vlaar

After making it to the final of the 2010 World Cup, it was expected that the Netherlands would once again impress at Euro 2012. This notion was further reinforced when the Dutch won 9 of their 10 qualifying matches, earning 27 points in their group and securing an impressive 29-point goal difference.

But perhaps it was something in the water in Poland and Ukraine, because Holland wilted faster than a tulip in the desert. The oranje failed to secure even one point in Group B, scoring just two goals in the process. The squad simply looked sloppy, and much of the blame landed on its star players, including Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder.

Shortly after the failed campaign for Euro 2012 ended, Bert van Marwijk resigned as head coach. He was replaced by Louis van Gaal, most recently of Bayern Munich, although he also coached the national side in the early 2000s. His side looks as though it may be taking a different approach than van Marwijk's: He's left behind the former coach's son-in-law, Mark van Bommel, as well as noted karate expert Nigel de Jong.

The shift from the side's focus on reliance on a defensive midfield will hopefully make Holland a more enjoyable side to watch once again. They've got plenty of talent going forward: in addition to the key players mentioned above, there's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (assuming he comes down off his ego trip and can contribute to the side); Dirk Kuyt, who's enjoying a revival at Fenerbahce; and the young Bas Dost from Wolfsburg, hoping to earn his first senior cap.

It's interesting that van Gaal is removing such destroyers from his squad, as his defence is rather inexperienced. He retains Joris Mathijsen and John Heitinga, and, of course, Ron Vlaar. Former Villan Wilfred Bourma gets the axe, as does Gregory van der Wiel, which is unsurprising considering his performance last time around. Their fourth defender will be 18-year-old Jetro Willems, and the bench will be made up of youngsters plying their trade in the Eredivisie.

It's unlikely that Holland will sweep their group this time around, but the squad that van Gaal has put together at least looks more enjoyable to watch than that of van Marwijk's reign. And we've got a Villan in oranje!