RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — No one can argue that the Netherlands coach, Louis Van Gaal, isn’t earning his salary.
The Dutch are have recovered from 1-0 down to win three times in Brazil, and four of the seven goals the Oranje have scored over the past three games have come from Van Gaal’s second-half substitutes.
“Our strength this World Cup is that we have shown that everyone from the bench can have a big impact on the game. Everyone is sharp,” says forward Arjen Robben.
Striker Klaas Van Huntelaar epitomized that depth in the round-of-16 game against Mexico. In his 21-minute cameo appearance, he set up Wesley Sneijder’s equalizer in the 88th minute and then scored the winning goal from the penalty spot two minutes later.
Fellow forward Memphis Depay set the tone for such an impact in the Netherlands’ second group game against Australia. Van Gaal sent the 20-year-old on for the second half and watched him provide an assist for captain Robin Van Persie’s equalizing goal, before tucking away the winner himself.
Van Gaal can also point with some satisfaction to the final group game against Chile, in which two of his substitutes scored the game’s only goals.
“We have a very good fighting spirit,” Sneijder said. “Right up until the last minute yesterday (against Mexico) we had no doubt we would win.”
The 62-year-old Van Gaal, who will take over at Manchester United after the World Cup, gambled against Mexico by taking off captain and all-time leading scorer Robin van Persie in the 76th. The subsequent change in tactics, implemented during the second-half water break, brought in Van Huntelaar for his dramatic late impact.
The Netherlands’ strength in depth will be further tested in the quarterfinal on July 5, with Robben admitting that the absence of defensive midfielder Nigel De Jong is a big loss. De Jong was forced off in the ninth minute of Sunday’s game with a groin injury. Van Gaal will be pleased though with the return to action of De Jong’s replacement, Bruno Martins Indi. Having started the Netherlands’ opening 5-1 victory against Spain, Martins Indi missed the final group game against Chile with concussion.
“We’re very confident,” says Robben, “We are in the final eight and we have a chance to win.”
With Van Gaal calling the shots from the sideline, the Netherlands first-ever World Cup title looks within reach.