Team Profile: Netherlands
Colours: Orange shirts, black shorts and orange socks
Previous World Cup appearances: 8 (1934, 1938, 1974, 1978, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2006)
Best World Cup performance: Runners-up in 1974 and 1978
Coach: Bert van Marwijk
Most capped player: Edwin van der Sar 130
Top scorer: Patrick Kluivert 40
Current FIFA Ranking: 3
With the famous 'totaalvoetbal' the Netherlands impressed the world in the seventies during two World Cups. The team of 1974 is probably the strongest team ever who didn't win the World Cup together with Hungary 1954. No single team managed to fulfill the eternal Dutch dream of becoming World Champion one day, all though the 1998 squad came close with a place in the semi-final. In South Africa the Netherlands will be one of the outsiders for the victory, but it seems also this time the dream won't come true.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Was it a bumpy road to South Africa? On the contrary the team of coach Bert van Marwijk probably had the easiest qualifying session of all countries, with the exception of host South Africa. The Dutch team comfortably won group 9 in the European zone beating Norway, Scotland, Macedonia and Iceland. With a WC-ticket in the bag only after the 6th match-day, the Netherlands managed to beat Norway and Scotland and made their campaign perfect winning all their eight matches.
Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben; many countries would like them in their squad. The offensive part of the Dutch team is very strong, maybe close to world class. The technically brilliant Van Persie, the playmaker qualities of Sneijder and the dribbling and pace of Robben are a big threat for every opponent. When fully fit, the three are a dangerous weapon.
All though having played a good qualification campaign, the defence of the Netherlands has always been a point of discussion in the Netherlands itself. André Ooijer is an experienced centre back, who is however getting a bit old. Everton-player John Heitinga would really like to play centre back in the Dutch team, which would leave an open spot for talented right back Gregory van der Wiel. Joris Mathijsen has been criticized quite a lot when he started to be a regular player in defence, but his performances are improving. Giovanni van Bronckhorst is the captain of the team, but people are a bit worried about his 'back' qualities. Being originally a midfielder, Van Bronckhorst seems to have difficulty with playing against a real winger.
Bert van Marwijk was the successor of Marco van Basten after Euro 2008. As a club coach he reached the Dutch Cup final with the modest side Fortuna Sittard in 1999. At Feyenoord he lived his finest moments, winning the UEFA Cup in 2002 and the national Cup in 2008. Van Marwijk is a quiet, conservative coach, who is not likely to bring surprises in the WC-squad. The possibility of Edwin van der Sar and Ruud van Nistelrooy giving up their international retirement is still there, but conversations with Van Marwijk haven't taken place yet.
Robin van Persie (Arsenal): One of the key players of English side Arsenal. Spending his youth in the streets of Rotterdam playing 'street soccer', Van Persie created the foundation for his brilliant technique and skills. As his manager Arsène Wenger once said, there's no player who can hold the ball so close to his foot with his first touch as Van Persie. Being used on the right wing in the past, Van Persie has expressed his desire to play in the striker role in the Dutch team like he does at Arsenal. A forward close to world class.
Wesley Sneijder (Internazionale): Real Madrid didn't need him anymore, but at Italian giants Internazionale Wesley Sneijder has quickly become one of the key players. Sneijder, coming from the youth ranks of Ajax, has the almost unique ability to shoot and pass exceptionally well with his right and left foot. He understands how to play behind the striker of his own team and between the defence and midfield of the opponents. His positioning is very well, which provides him the opportunity to give assists and score goals from distance.
Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich): A very skillful and quick winger, who can drive his opponent mad. His dribbling skills and pace are absolutely great, which makes him a player who can decide matches or break the deadlock. There's only one problem: his injury prone. Robben suffers a lot from injuries and is also known as the man of glass. If fully fit, Robben is a dangerous weapon for any top class side.
Apart from the two second places at the World Cup, the only tournament won by the Netherlands is the European Championships of 1988. It was the team with stars like Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit. In 1974 the Dutch team let the victory slip away against West Germany after leading 1-0 after only two minutes. Before the converted penalty of Johan Neeskens, no single German had touched the ball. In 1978 Rob Rensenbrink hit the post in the last minute of the final against Argentina at a 1-1. An example of 'so close and yet so far away'.
Famous for: the wooden shoes, the tulips and (most heard from foreigners when asked about the Netherlands) the policy regarding drugs. The Dutch coffee shops are a highlight for all those tourists from all over the world.
Most likely to: start the tournament very well. The expectations will start to rise in the Netherlands. Will the dream of becoming world champion finally come true? And then one off-day in the knock out phase will destroy the dream again.
The 'Orange fever' will start to grow when the start of the WC comes closer and closer. All programs on TV will be focused on the chance of the Dutch becoming world champion. Realistically, the quarter finals are possible, everything beyond that a nice surprise.