Thursday 11 November 2021, 23:00

Van Gaal: I'm confident the Netherlands will finish top

  • The Netherlands are being pushed by Norway and Turkey

  • Louis van Gaal is nonetheless confident they will win Group G

  • He hails his squad's incredible togetherness

“My wife is also entitled to a life with Louis van Gaal, not just the players.” With these words, legendary coach Louis van Gaal brought his career in management to an end once and for all in March 2019 at the age of 67 – or did he? In July 2021, he was appointed head coach of the Netherlands national team for the third time.

When asked why he chose to return to the touchline, the Dutchman told “They offered me the job and, to be honest, I wanted to help my country. I probably wouldn’t have made a comeback for a club, but I was glad to make an exception for the national side. It is an honour to be national-team coach, and I still see it that way.” The 69-year-old signed a contract until the end of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ after succeeding Frank de Boer, who resigned from the post after the Netherlands’ Round of 16 exit at UEFA EURO 2020. “Naturally, I’ve been paying close attention to international football over the last few years,” Van Gaal said. “Football is and remains my passion. When it comes to the Coronavirus pandemic, I think a lot of people have been through a tough time. Hopefully brighter days now lie ahead.” Despite the team remaining unbeaten during Van Gaal’s current tenure, recording four wins and one draw while scoring 18 goals and conceding just two, “it would only have been a perfect start if we’d won all of our matches. Having said that, we have to be satisfied with how things stand. We’re at the top of the group and we definitely performed at a high level in our game against Turkey.”

The Oranje beat their southern European opponents 6-1 in September to put themselves in pole position for a ticket to the World Cup in Group G of European qualification. “I’m confident we’ll manage it,” said Van Gaal. “We’ve definitely got tough opponents in our group, not just Norway but the other countries too. We took a big step forward in September. Our goal is clear: we want to qualify for the World Cup.” Victory over Montenegro on Saturday is essential before a showdown with Norway on Tuesday. With just two points separating the pair ahead of the last two qualifiers, the final head-to-head showdown will likely decide who wins the group. “We’re taking things one match at a time,” said Van Gaal. “It doesn’t make sense to look too far ahead because there is still so much that can happen. We’re just focusing on the next game.”

Dutch football fans have high hopes for successful World Cup next winter. After Van Gaal left his post as national team coach for the second time after finishing third at Brazil 2014, the Oranje then failed to qualify for UEFA EURO 2016 and Russia 2018. The team then made an early exit from last summer’s EURO after being defeated by Czech Republic in the Round of 16, forcing De Boer to vacate his post and clearing the way for Van Gaal to take the reins for a third time, after previous spells in charge between 2000 and 2002 and again from 2012 to 2014. “I think it’s tough to compare different sides,” he said. “I’ve already said this is the best group of players I’ve ever worked with when it comes to team spirit. I described them as ‘a happy group’ in the Dutch press. They get on very well together, there’s a real sense of togetherness, and they’re a genuine team. “But of course this alone does not guarantee success. At the end of the day, it comes down to how well we use our technical skills and tactics on the pitch.” If the Netherlands do manage to qualify for next year’s World Cup, Van Gaal’s wife Truus will likely have to wait at least another 13 months to spend some more quality time with her husband. And who knows? They might even need to clear a little more space in his already replete trophy cabinet.