'Pack the midfield': How India can beat the Netherlands in the quarter-finals

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The Netherlands have a unique practice drill -- unlike other teams that play six or seven a side when shortening the pitch length to half, they use all of their players. Striker Jeroen Hertzberger says this is done to simulate the pressure they are likely to face from opponents in the heat of a game.

This served them well in the 5-0 drubbing of Canada on Tuesday -- their crossover match at the World Cup which booked them a place in the quarter-finals against India. Their first goal in the game characterised their strength: the midfield. Frustrated by the Canadian ploy of crowding the defence and midfield through the first quarter, they threw more bodies both forward and wider to start the second. Defender Sander Baart, virtually the last outfield player still in the Dutch half, swept a ball out to the right, that was crashed into the opposition circle, and midfielder Lars Balk -- an indoor World Cup winner in 2015 -- met the low pass to make it 1-0 in the 16th minute.

Using the defenders to drop down the wings opened the pitch for them soon after, with a full-court press completely throttling Canada the second quarter onwards. Midfielders Robbert Kemperman, Glenn Schuurman, Billy Bakker and Mirco Pruijser pressured Canada, forcing turnovers and mistakes.

"Canada played really low, so we had to make the gaps ourselves, keep the tempo up, and I think we did that very well in the second quarter," said Kemperman, one of the four scores. "[It was] 2-0 at halftime, and we said after that we want to go to 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 and kill the game."

It's this midfield proficiency that India will have to deal with, in their quest for a maiden World Cup in 43 years. India's top scorer and midfielder Simranjeet Singh says India have a plan. "They have experienced players like Billy Bakker and Seve van Ass in the midfield, which is the strongest in the world. Our aim will be to pack our midfield and compete with them in that department. The midfielders make the game for their attacking players, and we have to counter that," he says.


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The fashion of scoring is repetitive, even boring, yet simple. With runners on either flank, the Dutch were able to push the Canadian defence deep, then midfielders take on their markers with one trying to find the nearest unmarked player across the face of goal.

It's the kind of game plan that the Dutch have perfected, says Belgian goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch. How they go against the Indian midfield of Manpreet Singh, Chinglensana Singh, Lalit Upadhyay and Hardik Singh could settle the contest. "They (dutch midfielders) can play really good combination. They will play against India, but then it's going to be crazy because of the 12th man here," says Vanasch, pointing to the stands.

The 18 goals the Dutch have scored in the World Cup are the most among the 16 teams, but the match against Canada was their second inside three days and they will effectively play five matches in eight days should they make the final. The Dutch are however eager to put on a show and Kemperman believes they have what it takes to overcome India. "They are really fast and technical, and we have to be really secure in what we do," he says. "[Facing] India at this stadium is really difficult, but we are confident and I think we are in a good shape. Looking forward to playing India at this stadium."