Van Gaal the man for both present, with Dutch, and future, with Manchester United - Group B takeaways

John McAuley sums up what we learned from Group B at the 2014 World Cup, including why Manchester United fans have reason to be excited about their new manager.

Louis van Gaal managed Netherlands to a perfect three wins, no losses in group play at the 2014 World Cup. Damien Meyer / AFP / June 23, 2014
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Spain will come good again

The 5-1 humiliation at the hands of the Netherlands shocked and startled, then the meek surrender to Chile confirmed what most Spanish fans knew would was not too far away. The reigning world champions, conquerors of the past two European Championships, had run out of legs – it’s just no one imagined it would end this way. Xavi, Iker Casillas and Xabi Alonso, three national team stalwarts, said ‘chao’ to Brazil in ignominious fashion, and waved ‘adios’ to their international careers, too. The end of an era, it plainly was. However, Spain should not fear. Remember, this remains a ridiculously talented squad, and their Under-21s last summer proved there is royal red in the bloodline. Thiago Alcantara, injured, was sorely missed at this tournament, and he has a number of peers ready to step up again. Spain were beaten and bowed, but they will be back. This chastening experience might just quicken the renaissance.

Australia should be feared at 2015 Asian Cup

Expected to drown in a pool with loftier opponents, this relatively inexperienced Australian side may have lost all three matches, but by no means did they look out of their depth. Tim Cahill’s goal against Chile in the opener seemed to soothe tournament nerves, and from there Ange Postecoglou’s men earned many a plaudit. In particular, the match with the Netherlands will have significantly enhanced hopes for January’s Asian Cup, which takes place on home soil. For much of the match, Australia were equal to the Dutch, only for tired legs and weary minds to give way late on. This squad, made up of rookies – including a large collection of domestic-based players - was chosen with the continental competition, and beyond, in mind. Stuart Leckie, Tommy Oar and Ryan McGowan, especially, depart Brazil with reputations burnished. The rest of Asia will have taken note.

New-look Dutch have style and substance

Granted, the 2014 Netherlands squad still contained Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. Two of the three, at least, have excelled in Brazil. But the current crop of Dutchmen has changed considerably from the team that battled their way to the final four years ago, and that this is a side very much in transition was repeatedly emphasised before a ball was kicked. Yet the youthful Netherlands have proven wise beyond their years in the professional game. Daley Blind, Daryl Janmaat, even Memphis Depay, will have attracted many an admiring glance already this summer. The most impressive thing, though, is there has not been rumour or murmur about disharmony in the camp, something that has previously blighted the Dutch time and time again. For once, it appears they have the mettle for tournament football to match the obvious talent. Questions at the back remain, but this month has sown the seeds for future optimism. Beware the boys in orange.

Time is now for Chile

For so long compared to the finest Chilean sides of recent past, cast the mind back further and it is the 1962 vintage that Jorge Sampaoli’s charges are attempting to rival, perhaps even surpass. It was 52 years ago, on home soil, that Fernando Riera’s Chile lasted longer at a World Cup than any of their compatriots before or since. Now, there is the sense this current team is primed to at least match them. Obviously, it will be difficult, with a last-16 clash seeming likely against the hosts. Yet Brazilians preferred the Netherlands, and there is a tangible fear among the locals that Chile represent sterner opponents. In dispatching Spain, Chile proved the pre-tournament predictions have foundation. Talented, tenacious and tireless, defeating Brazil would not surprise. Given this is the first finals in South America in 36 years, Chile will not have a better chance to emulate the class of 1962.

United fans have a lot to forward to

English fans of a certain persuasion would have spent as much time glued to Group B than the one containing Roy Hodgson’s men, Uruguay, Italy and the fabulous Costa Ricans. For once the Netherlands withdraw from the tournament, perhaps not as soon as most Manchester United supporters desired, Louis van Gaal takes the reins of England’s premier club. If the Dutch side’s impressive demolition of Spain will not have warmed the heart, then a succession of Van Gaal’s press conferences would have done the trick. While making headlines on the pitch is far from guaranteed, one thing is for sure: United’s new coach will convince and captivate off it. In Brazil, Van Gaal has displayed that dependably Dutch arrogance, the sort of personality that demands an interrogator must come equipped with not only pen and paper, but a reliable health insurance, too. Whatever the outcome of his latest role, there are fun times ahead, indeed.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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