World Cup qualifying preview: Fresh start for Netherlands, Van Gaal
The Netherlands begin life under coach Louis van Gaal for the second time as qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup begins in earnest.
One of the traditional powerhouses of world football despite their small population, the Netherlands reached the final of 2010 World Cup in South Africa, losing 1-0 to Spain in extra-time.
Previously admired for their focus on skill and technique, they lost friends with an overtly physical approach to that tournament, as bad tackles and high challenges marred the final in Johannesburg.
After a storm of criticism, the Netherlands reverted to type in more ways than one for this year’s European Championships.
Considered one of the pre-tournament favourites for Euro 2012 after qualifying in style, Van Marwijk’s team surprisingly bowed out in the group stage without collecting a point.
Lacking defensive solidity and missing cohesion in attack, rumours of dressing room unrest and player factions surfaced, issues which have dogged the country throughout its modern history at international tournaments.
Van Marwijk paid for their failure in Poland and Ukraine with his job, prompting a return to the national team hot seat for Van Gaal, who last held the role between 2000 and 2002.
The former Ajax and Barcelona coach has the unwanted distinction of having failed to qualify the Netherlands for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea, but he has been handed a chance to put right the wrongs of his previous tenure.
Drawn in Group D of UEFA qualifying, the Netherlands begin their qualifying campaign at home to Turkey on Friday, with Romania visiting Estonia and Hungary going to Andorra in the pool’s other fixtures.
Russia will also be seeking redemption under former England coach Fabio Capello.
A talented Russia squad exited Euro 2012 in the group stages, enraging the country’s passionate supporters with their careless performances, and have their first shot on the road to rehabilitation with the visit of Northern Ireland.
Other Group F matches on Friday see Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal go to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan visit Israel.
In Group A, Croatia host Macedonia and Belgium are away to Wales.
Italy’s trip to Bulgaria headlines the Group B fixtures, with Malta also in action at home to Armenia.
Heavy favourites Germany host the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan await the visit of Ireland in Group C, while France are away to Finland and Georgia host Belarus in Group I.
Roy Hodgson’s England travel to take on minnows Moldova, with Montenegro at home to Poland the other match in Group H.
Finally, Switzerland go to Slovenia, Albania host Cyprus and Iceland are at home to Norway in Group E.
A day later, Scotland host Serbia in Group A and the Czech Republic go to Denmark in Group B.soccerway