Salvador: As Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands squad checked into Salvador’s opulent Hotel Deville on Wednesday, the air of calm surrounding the Dutch jarred with the commonly held perception that tournament time is generally when the Oranje descend into chaos.
It is probably apt that the Big Brother television series was the brainchild of Dutch media mogul John de Mol, with the divisive reality show offering an alternative view of what it has often been like inside the Holland camp during a major competition.
De Mol’s Lord of the Flies homage may even have been inspired by the personality clashes between squad members which derailed more than one Dutch attempt at winning a major tournament.
Yet as Holland prepare to begin their 2014 World Cup campaign on Friday against Spain, four years after losing to Vicente del Bosque’s team in Johannesburg in 2010, Dutch tensions have been limited to a minor spat between Arjen Robben and Bruno Martins Indi, with the Feyenoord defender reacting angrily to the Bayern Munich winger ‘diving’ following a training ground challenge.
But despite Van Gaal’s ferocious reputation and the egos of senior figures such as Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong and Robben, the blend of experience and youth in the Dutch squad has led to a new sense of focus ahead of the clash with the world champions.
“Our focus is good and it has to be,” Van Persie said. “What you saw in the past often, is that in the beginning, many jokes were being made, but I think that’s less the case now.
“This is purely because of the focus we have as a group. We are therefore looking forward to the competition and are really eager to get started.”
Even Van Gaal’s decision to leave his post at the end of the World Cup in order to succeed David Moyes at Manchester United has done little to upset the mood within the Dutch camp.
Van Persie, Van Gaal’s captain, is an unabashed admirer of the 62-year-old and despite the coach insisting that Holland have only a ‘20 per cent chance’ of winning the World Cup, the United forward believes the squad is capable of making the semi-finals.
Speaking on the eve of Holland’s match against Spain, Van Persie said: “Spain are a great team. In my view, they are the best team in the world, but we are also very good. Don’t forget that. We are not intimidated by Spain. Do not underestimate us.
“Of course, we have to prove ourselves again and it is a great challenge. We will therefore give it everything.
“I’m positive for everything that lies ahead and have faith in our team.
“And if we — and I mean not only the players, but also the staff and the media — can say that we’ve had a good tournament in the World Cup, whatever the outcome, it will be a success for us.”