THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) " Dick Advocaat was appointed Netherlands coach Tuesday with the tough task of leading the struggling team to next year's World Cup in Russia.
With the Dutch national team languishing in fourth place in Group A, the Royal Dutch Football Association appointed Advocaat as coach and Ruud Gullit as his assistant for the remainder of the qualifying campaign. If they manage to get the team to Russia, they will stay in charge for the tournament, federation technical director Hans van Breukelen said.
Advocaat was not present at a news conference to announce his appointment; he will remain with his current club, Fenerbahce, until the end of the Turkish league season.
The 69-year-old Advocaat, who was appointed for his third stint in charge of the national team, won praise in 2015 for saving Sunderland from relegation in the Premier League and will need a similar escape to avoid the Netherlands missing its second straight major tournament after last year's European Championship in France.
The Netherlands is six points behind Group A leader France. Only the group winner is guaranteed a place at the World Cup.
The vastly experienced Advocaat has previously coached Russia, Belgium and Serbia, as well as club teams including PSV Eindhoven, Glasgow Rangers, Zenit St. Petersburg and Sunderland.
Gullit, a former Chelsea coach, captained the Netherlands to its only major tournament success, the 1988 European Championship.
Advocaat's predecessor, Danny Blind, was fired in March after the Dutch lost to Bulgaria in a 2018 World Cup qualifier.
Van Breuken said the hunt for a replacement focused on finding somebody "who can increase discipline in the (players') group and bring back the joy to our play."
Joy has been in short supply for the three-time World Cup runner-up since the team's form went into free fall after reaching the semifinals of the World Cup in Brazil.
Van Breukelen conceded that the search for a new coach was tough, with some possible candidates unavailable or unwilling. Everton coach Ronald Koeman and former Ajax coach Frank de Boer were both identified as possible successors shortly after Blind was fired.
In the end, Advocaat was chosen despite having sparked anger among players and federation officials when he walked away from his role as Blind's assistant last year to join Fenerbahce.
Van Breukelen conceded that he was "very unhappy" when Advocaat quit last year. But he said he put that feeling aside when he chose Advocaat.
"Quality comes ahead of sentiment," Van Breukelen.
It remains to be seen what the Dutch team will make of its new coach. Van Breukelen said the players he had spoken to were surprised by the choice of Advocaat and Gullit, but "they are professionals and they will get over it."
Advocaat's first match in charge will be the team's next World Cup qualifier, against Luxembourg on June 9 in Rotterdam. Before that match, Fred Grim will serve as caretaker coach for friendlies against Morocco and Ivory Coast.