After missing out on reaching the 2018 World Cup, and having underachieved with a second round exit at Euro 2020, the Dutch Football Association sought to tempt Louis van Gaal out of retirement for one last assignment: reach Qatar 2022.
Van Gaal had been in charge when the Netherlands finished third at Brazil 2014, losing out to runners-up Argentina on penalties in the semi-finals and trouncing the tournament hosts in the third/fourth-place play-off.
His second appointment has paid off spectacularly so far, too, with the Dutch finishing top of Group G, two points clear of second-placed Turkey.
The goals flowed throughout, with Memphis Depay’s haul of 12 putting him seven clear at the top of the group scoring charts, five ahead of Norway talisman Erling Haaland.
Amid that process, Van Gaal shielded his players from the news that he was battling prostate cancer. “I didn’t want to tell my players because it could have influenced their performances,” said the 71-year-old, who would leave Dutch camps during the night to undergo treatment without his squad finding out.
Buoyed by the subsequent news that their manager had undergone successful treatment, the Netherlands go to Qatar armed with a healthy blend of youth and experience.
They have wise old heads Daley Blind and Virgil van Dijk balanced out by all-action youngsters such as Jurrien Timber and Cody Gakpo, not to mention a sizeable batch of prime talents including revitalised Ajax captain Davy Klaassen and Barcelona duo Depay and Frenkie de Jong, who both continue to perform despite less than stellar treatment from their club.
With such ingredients at his disposal, could Van Gaal mix up a potent blend for one last hurrah in Qatar?
Manager: Louis van Gaal
Star player: Memphis Depay
One to watch: Cody Gakpo
World Cup finals appeared in: 1934, 1938, 1974, 1978, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2006, 2010, 2014
Fixtures: Nov 21 - Senegal v Netherlands; Nov 25 - Netherlands v Ecuador; Nov 29 - Netherlands v Qatar