RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The days of fluent, attacking "total football" are long gone for the Netherlands. Now, results matter more than the way they are achieved.
It's a bitter pill to swallow for an older generation of "Oranje" fans brought up on the almost carefree attacking elan of the likes of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens, but the 4-3-3 system that formed the backbone of the great Dutch teams of the 1970s and '80s is very unlikely to be used in the team's first match in Brazil, against Spain on Friday.
That repeat of the physical and feisty 2010 final in Johannesburg — which saw a total of 13 yellow cards and one red — was seen as a chance of redemption for the Dutch, an opportunity to show that they can still take on the world's best with attacking football.
Instead, coach Louis van Gaal has signaled he will likely play five defenders to stifle the defending world champion's slick-passing front line.
If Spain was monitoring the Netherlands' training workout Sunday at the Flamengo complex in Rio, they might fear that their Group B opener in Salvador will resemble Johannesburg four years ago.
Midfield playmaker Wesley Sneijder was left wincing in pain after a tackle from behind by Nigel de Jong — whose studs-up, chest-high challenge on Xabi Alonso in the 2010 final became emblematic of the uncompromising Dutch defense — and Feyenoord defender Bruno Martins Indi twice floored Arjen Robben, one of the Dutch team's most potent attacking forces.
Then-coach Bert Van Marwijk's team was fiercely criticized by some for its style, but he was unrepentant.
"I would have loved to win it with football that is not so beautiful," Van Marwijk said after the final.
Van Gaal, a champion of attractive, flowing football since he led Ajax to the Champions League title in 1995, has tacitly conceded that the same is now true for him.
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