Van Gaal plays down Dutch World Cup chances
Dutch coach Louis van Gaal believes it could prove tough to achieve the target he was set to reach the World Cup semi-finals later this year, he said on Tuesday.
When he took over as national coach for the second time after Euro 2012, van Gaal, 62, was handed the task of a last four finish in Brazil.
But he said that although he had a really talented young side, it could be exposed by more experienced teams in June.
The Dutch -- who went out in the group phase of Euro 2012 leading to coach Bert van Marwijk leaving his post -- have been drawn in a particularly hard group with holders Spain, highly-thought-of Chile and Australia.
Van Gaal, who made his name as a top level coach with a young Ajax side during the 1990s by guiding them to the 1995 Champions League trophy, pitches his team up against France in a friendly on Wednesday, the last match before he names his provisional 30-man squad for the finals.
Ahead of the game he was at pains to suggest that the Dutch should not be regarded as serious contenders for the World Cup.
"According to the FIFA rankings we are eighth or tenth... it doesn't matter which, but we are not one of the favourites," he said.
"I view Brazil and Argentina and, from Europe, Spain and Germany as the favourites.
"We consider ourselves as outsiders. I arrived as coach (after the Euro) with certain targets: qualify for the finals and then reach the semi-finals.
"We have introduced a lot of fresh young blood into the team and played really nice football and scored a lot of goals in the qualifying group.
"However, the semi-finals will be a really hard goal to achieve."
Van Gaal, who has also coached Barcelona and Bayern Munich among others, sprang to the defence of striker Robin van Persie, who has had a frustrating season both with injuries and form at struggling English champions Manchester United.
"I don't agree about his form," said van Gaal, who may well be without van Persie and Arjen Robben because of injury for the France game.
"He is just coming back from injury and despite that he is scoring in every match (he has 11 in the Premier League this season).
"If he is managing that with his club who are not in the best of form then that is a pretty positive sign."
Van Gaal, who has had his name linked with the job at Manchester United should the directors lose faith in David Moyes, said he had changed since his first spell as national coach which lasted just two years and ended when the Dutch failed to qualify for the 2002 World CUp finals.
"First time round I was a coach who placed more importance on the relations between myself and the players," said van Gaal, who is reportedly set to be replaced by Guus Hiddink after the World Cup.
"That I have now put on the back shelf and prioritised the physical shape of the players.
"But today I would like to start working again on my relations with the players."
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