BRASILIA: Louis Van Gaal has turned himself around. Now he has to do the same for his players ahead of the World Cup’s third place play-off against Brazil writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
After the semi-final shootout defeat by Argentina Holland’s coach railed against the imposition of a third-place play-off.
Now – “slowly but surely,” as he said – Van Gaal has hit on the possibility to make football history as the only Dutch team to return, unbeaten, from the World Cup finals.
Van Gaal said: “I was a physical education teacher for more than 11 years and always on the last day of term we did all sorts of games in the gym.
“So this will will be a part of my speech to the players before the game that they may want to give me a present in the form of a victory so we can leave the tournament undefeated.”
Van Gaal steps down as Holland coach after the play-off in preparation for taking over as manager at Manchester United.
But his mind is focused on the challenge of Brazil, fired by his resentment at the scheduling advantages granted to the World Cup hosts.
He said: “Brazil started first and played their last match later than we did. Now Brazil again have played [their semi-final] first and we played a day later. Those are the facts. I’m not going to beat around the bush.”
The lack of time to regroup had prevented Van Gaal from naming his team before the final training session.
He said: “This morning I gave my team an analysis of Brazil for the first time without giving my line-up. This goes against my principles because I feel a player has to focus on the next opponent but we can’t do that because I had to see how training goes and who is in good shape and who is not.
“We’ve been in the tournament with three other teams for the longest time so little issues accumulate and I want to start with a team that is mentally fit as well as physically fit.”
Veteran midfielder Dirk Kuyt expressed the players’ mixed emotions.
He said: “I’m disappointed because we came here with only one objective and we had the confidence and faith that we could achieve it. I don’t think we are the best team in terms of quality but we are the team who are the most difficult to defeat.
“That’s what I said before the World Cup and it’s been confirmed so it’s a shame we never made it to the final.
“We were a genuine team and I can say, on behalf of all the players, that this team was the best I have worked with in five tournaments in team spirit.
“Losing [a semi-final] hurts a lot and the pain doesn’t ease just like that but there’s always the next match and we want to win to return home unbeaten and get on the plane with a good feeling. We will have given everything to that end.”