Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal believes it could prove tough to achieve the target he was set to reach the World Cup semi-finals later this year, he said on Tuesday.
When he took over as national coach for the second time after Euro 2012, Van Gaal, 62, was handed the task of a last-four finish in Brazil, but he said that although he had a really talented young side, it could be exposed by more experienced teams in June.
The Netherlands — who went out in the group phase of Euro 2012 leading to coach Bert van Marwijk leaving his post — have been drawn in a particularly hard group with holders Spain, highly-thought-of Chile and Australia.
Van Gaal, who made his name as a top level coach with a young Ajax side during the 1990s by guiding them to the 1994-1995 UEFA Champions League trophy, was at pains to suggest that the Netherlands should not be regarded as serious contenders for the World Cup.
“According to the FIFA rankings we are eighth or 10th... it doesn’t matter which, but we are not one of the favorites,” Van Gaal said. “I view Brazil and Argentina and, from Europe, Spain and Germany as the favorites. We consider ourselves as outsiders. I arrived as coach [after Euro 2012] with certain targets — qualify for the finals and then reach the semi-finals. We have introduced a lot of fresh young blood into the team, and played really nice football and scored a lot of goals in the qualifying group. However, the semi-finals will be a really hard goal to achieve.”
Van Gaal, who has also coached Barcelona and Bayern Munich among others, sprang to the defense of striker Robin van Persie, who has had a frustrating season both with injuries and form at struggling English champions Manchester United.
“I don’t agree about his form,” Van Gaal said. “He is just coming back from injury and despite that he is scoring in every match [he has 11 in the Premier League this season]. If he is managing that with his club, who are not in the best of form, then that is a pretty positive sign.”
Van Gaal, who has had his name linked with the job at Manchester United should the directors lose faith in David Moyes, said he had changed since his first spell as national coach which lasted just two years and ended when the Netherlands failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup finals.
“First time round I was a coach who placed more importance on the relations between myself and the players,” said van Gaal, who is reportedly set to be replaced by Guus Hiddink after the World Cup finals. “That I have now put on the back shelf and prioritized the physical shape of the players, but today I would like to start working again on my relations with the players.”