Monday, June 14, 2010

32 For 2010: Netherlands

It’s been noted by many people that only seven countries have ever won the World Cup in its 80-year history. Those same people have also suggested the time is now right for a new name to be added to the roll of honour, and most of those have put forward Spain as the country most likely to become the eighth. Perhaps they do so in haste, for the Netherlands are ready to learn by their mistakes and make one big push to become champions in 2010.

There is much evidence to suggest they could. Euro 2008 saw the Dutch complete an emphatic group stage in which they beat Italy 3-0 and France 4-1. With three wins out of three, it was somewhat unfortunate that they were punished in their first bad day at the office – a 3-1 defeat after extra time to Russia – after which they were eliminated from the competition.

They did at least impress with their fast, technically excellent brand of football which garnered much admiration from home fans and neutrals alike, but sadly they couldn’t find the clinical touch when they needed it most. The same could be said of their World Cup 2006 campaign in which they finished level on points with first round group winners Argentina only to be defeated 1-0 against Portugal in the second round.

With former Borussia Dortmund coach Bert Van Marwijk at the helm, fans of the Dutch team are at least optimistic that they can live up to their label of ‘dark horses’. Under the stewardship of the 58-year-old, the Netherlands breezed through qualifying for World Cup 2010 by winning all eight of their games. Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored three each during that campaign, but they weren’t the sole source of goals by any means. Such is the strength in depth of the Dutch squad that Mark Van Bommel and Rafael van der Vaart pitched in with two each while seven others including Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben each scored one.

From 1 to 23, it’s difficult to find a Dutch player who isn’t based at one of Europe’s top clubs. Of those that still ply their trade in the Eredivisie, Maarten Stekelenburg (replacement for Edwin Van Der Sar in goal) and former Rangers  defender Giovanni Van Bronckhorst are two worth highlighting.

Juggling so much talent in all areas of the field – even in the weaker Dutch defence – requires a decent coach, and since Van Marwijk took over from Marco Van Basten in 2008 there’s been a greater emphasis on getting things right rather than playing with flair and pace. This makes for a new era of Dutch performances that are less easy on the eye, but with an illustrious history of total football behind them, you’re never far away from entertaining football.

As things stand, Dutch fans have much to be optimistic about at this World Cup, but that optimism is tempered with the hard reality that comes with a trophy cabinet that’s been empty for the last 22 years. The question therefore remains: not ‘can’ but ‘when’ will the Netherlands win the World Cup?  If the answer’s ‘2010’, they’ll have to beat Spain or Brazil along the way and that’ll call for a truly outstanding brand of Oranje indeed.


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