For a moment, it all seemed typically, wonderfully, Dutch. The Netherlands national team had ignited the World Cup by beating reigning champion Spain on Day 2; not just winning but destroying it 5-1, with three of the goals -- Robin van Persie's flying header and two strikes of individual brilliance from Arjen Robben -- utterly sensational.
But then, early in the second half of its second game, the Netherlands found itself trailing 2-1 to Australia, the team ranked lowest in the FIFA rankings among all in Brazil. It couldn't slip up like this, could it? Actually no. Coach Louis van Gaal made a tactical change in the second half, switching to 4-3-3 and bringing on Memphis Depay, who scored the winning goal.
The Dutch then made it three out of three, beating Chile with a classic sucker-punch to top Group B and avoid Brazil in the round of 16. And while Van Persie and Robben rightly took credit after the Spain win, the result against Australia, and even more so Chile, was as much down to Van Gaal as well.
Suddenly Manchester United's decision to appoint the Dutchman as coach for next season (it reportedly made an approach to Spain's Vicente del Bosque too) looks like a smart one. So how has Van Gaal gotten this team, which was expected to flop in Brazil, performing so well? Dutch journalist Michiel De Hoog explained in his column for De Correspondent
Van Gaal worked with consultant Leo van der Burg to devise a three-tiered player analysis: intellectually-oriented players were blue, emotional players green and creative players red. Each color, according to the two men, differs in the way they process information and therefore Van Gaal's approach changes for each of them. Van Gaal is always keen to show his players their best moments, convinced that positive images help. His approach is also to improve players' strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses.