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Spain 1 Netherlands 5 analysis: Louis van Gaal's calm authority gives Manchester United fans something to be excited about

United striker Robin van Persie scores twice during emphatic win over the reigning champions

It was a sight Manchester United fans will hope to see replicated many times in the coming seasons — a jubilant Robin van Persie running straight to the dugout to give his manager a high five.

The Netherlands substitutes and back-room staff stood respectfully behind their manager, Louis Van Gaal, waiting their turn to congratulate Van Persie. It was the flying Dutchman’s superb diving header that brought his team back into the contest, but Van Gaal is the undisputed Oranje kingpin, even as his time in charge enters its final weeks.

His arrival date in Manchester depends very much on how far the 2010 finalists go in this World Cup. Would the cachet of employing a World Cup-winning manager compensate for a couple more leaderless weeks during the summer?

Even after this performance the Netherlands may still not be many people’s favourites to go all the way, but you can be sure their manager believes he has the ability to wring every last ounce of potential out of his relatively young squad.

Robin van Persie leaps to equalise against Spain

Call it confidence, call it arrogance, whatever it is the 62-year-old is dripping in it.

While David Moyes’ press conferences during his brief time as Manchester United manager descended into a study in desperation, the Dutch coach owned the room during his pre-match briefing with the media on Thursday.

From the references to himself in the third person, the breezy manner with which he dismissed questions relating to his new employers and the obvious respect he demanded from Arjen Robben, who sat next to him, chuckling, Van Gaal exuded an air of authority. Little, if anything, fazes the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich head coach and the prospect of last night’s meeting with the reigning world champions got his synapses firing.

The man whom the Spain playmaker Xavi Hernandez praised for the influence he wielded during his two spells at Barcelona was clearly relishing his duel with the Spain manager, Vicente del Bosque, and had given considerable thought to this game above his other Group B encounters, with Australia and Chile. How else could you explain the rare and beautiful sight of a team in modern football wearing jerseys one through 11? The make-up of his squad was defined by this match and, having laid out his game plan built on a five-man defence, Van Gaal was happy to stand in his technical area throughout the warm-up, himself and assistant Patrick Kluivert chatting intermittently.


As the teams lined up in the tunnel the Netherlands head coach had time for a warm embrace with Xavi and a playful pinch of Gerard Pique’s cheek. He might have been relaxed, but his players were anything but. To counter Spain’s short-passing menace Van Gaal’s frontmen worked like Trojans. Can anyone see one of United’s Spanish contingent, Juan Mata, harassing in the manner that Wesley Sneijder and even Robben did here?

Even when they went behind to Xabi Alonso’s penalty the Netherlands did not panic. They knew they could not rely on having an abundance of possession so Robben and Van Persie were living on the verge of offside, waiting impatiently for the opportunity to counter-attack.

Van Persie took his first chance acrobatically for a man who has spent much of the past season injured and with his second goal only increased his chance of becoming United’s new captain.

Will Robben be joining him at Old Trafford? Van Gaal’s affection for the Bayern attacker only increased with his second-half goals. His second, for a 5-1 scoreline, made a mockery of a Spanish defence that only conceded two goals on their way to winning the World Cup four years ago. United might have to wait.