REUTERS - Louis van Gaal has restored his reputation by leading the Netherlands into the World Cup finals, a decade after failing in the same competition with a highly-rated team.
The 62-year-old coach delivered the Dutch to next year’s finals in Brazil on Tuesday when they made sure of top place in Group D with a 2-0 win in Andorra - their seventh triumph in eight qualifiers.
The success puts Van Gaal back among the coaching elite after he had to spend years rebuilding his reputation following the failure to qualify for the 2002 finals.
Van Gaal had been expected to deliver for the Dutch in 2002 with a talent-laden team at the peak of their powers.
They had been European Championship semifinalists in 2000 and included Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Edwin van der Sar.
The team finished behind Portugal and the Republic of Ireland in their qualifying group, however, to tumble out in disappointing fashion.
Van Gaal, who had built his name on multiple successes at Ajax Amsterdam and Barcelona, resigned after less than two years in the national team job.
His long path to redemption came via a spell at provincial club AZ Alkmaar whom he led to the Dutch title in 2009, breaking a 27-year monopoly on the championship held by the country’s trio of top teams - Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven.
He went on to win the Bundesliga in a colourful spell at Bayern Munich before making a surprise return to the Dutch job last year, after the team had lost all three matches at Euro 2012 in Ukraine.
Van Gaal preferred not to dwell on the past on Tuesday. Asked by reporters about the contrast with 2002, he replied:
“I find that no smear on my career.”
”I‘m working now with a totally different group,“ he told SBS6 television. ”I am building a very young team with a few older players.
”You must think back to the team I had to take over. To form a new team is always difficult and especially after such a disappointing European Championship but we have done well to qualify as the first country from Europe and with a goal difference of plus 20.
“In Brazil we want to achieve,” he added. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. At a tournament like the World Cup, being the national coach is an exceptional job.” (Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Clare Fallon)