While watching the Netherlands beat Mexico 2-1 this week, I couldn’t help wondering — how can anyone root against the Dutch? Unless they’re playing your country, of course. Even lacking many of their probable World Cup starters, the Oranje played in perfect harmony, reminding us all why we love to watch their form of football.
The Dutch made their mark on world football in the 1970s with the introduction of Totaalvoetbal, or total football. This system is characterized by a fluid style of play, with the formation having more importance than position. In other words, players are not constrained in their positional roles, but are able to play throughout the field. More than three decades later, their style of play remains one of the most beautiful and influential, with Arsenal and Barcelona two of the best-known clubs emulating Holland today.
Although the 2010 Netherlands national team is considered to be among the top five squads in the world, supporting the Oranje doesn’t guarantee immunity to heartache. Holland has a bit of a reputation for falling apart at critical junctures. For instance, in Euro 2000, they ran wild over Yugoslavia, winning 6-1, but went on to the semi-finals against Italy, where they couldn’t find the goal. The Dutch were given two penalties within the game but couldn’t score in either occasion, and when the match went to a penalty shootout, managed to score just one out of four.
In fact, the Netherlands opponents’ often cross their fingers for a shootout, so strong is the Dutch tradition of being unable to convert penalties. In past years, coaches for the Netherlands rarely had their players practice penalty kicks, believing a win from a shootout to be an unfitting end to their beautiful game. As recently as Euro 2004, then-coach Dick Advocaat didn’t require penalty practice prior to the tournament. Given that the 2006 World Cup came down to a penalty shootout, in which Italy scored all five of their penalties against France’s three, supporters of the Netherlands should hope that coach Bert van Marwijk overcame that prejudice and required shooting drills from 12 yards out.
In an ideal world the Oranje wouldn’t need to worry about penalties, as they want to be able to cruise into comfortable victories. The squad for South Africa has plenty of offensive power, with Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder—a quartet of players that has rarely played as a unit in qualification, given that one or another have almost always been injured over the past year. While it will be difficult to juggle forwards and midfielders, the defense remains a weakness for the Netherlands. Should they continue to bamboozle with forward pressing and elegant crosses, the Dutch will provide an astonishing display of attacking football, winning over the hearts of a new generation of fans.
How They Got Here
As per usual, Holland did it with style. They won each of their eight qualifying matches, scoring seventeen goals in the process. The Netherlands secured a trip to South Africa in their sixth qualifying match, in which they defeated Iceland 1-2 in Reykjavik.
How They've Fared Before – The Netherlands saw two successive final defeats in 1974 and 1978. Fast-forward to more recent times, when they haven’t fared so well: The Oranje failed to qualify in 2002, and in 2006 were eliminated in the second round after a 1-0 loss to Portugal.
Players To Watch
Robin van Persie: After missing much of the Premier League season due to injury, van Persie is fully fit, and a certain threat to opposing defenses. The center-forward is intelligent and imaginative, equally adept at firing in a left-footed screamer as he is at slipping by defenders and into the box. Arsène Wenger, his manager at Arsenal, likened him to Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi, stating that if van Persie had stayed fit he would have been counted among the best players in the world this season.
Rafael van der Vaart: Although van der Vaart had a tough season finding regular playing time at Real Madrid, the midfielder has 76 caps for his country, and there was never any doubt that he would make the final roster for South Africa. While his international goal tally isn’t high, van der Vaart is often involved in the lead up to a goal, with his excellent passing abilities being an essential component to the Dutch squad.
Wesley Sneijder: For an in-depth look at Sneijder, check out my earlier piece on SBN. He’s going to be essential in midfield, where his two-footed tactics make it just as likely that he will move or pass in either direction. Sneijder has an accurate shot that will hit the target even from outside the box.
Arjen Robben: Robben’s thunderous left foot is the stuff of dreams – or nightmares if you’re a goalkeeper. Blessed with pace, an outstanding bag of tricks, and a scorching shot, Robben is one of the world’s most dangerous players when he marauds down the right hand flank. However, he comes with some baggage as well – he’s notorious for inviting contact from the opposition and going down too easily, as well as missing far too many games to knocks and niggles. Perhaps he simply has an unusually low pain tolerance?
Eljero Elia: This youngster has been impressing Germany with his play at Hamburg over the past season. Despite logging just one game in World Cup qualification, Elia scored, bagging the Netherlands’ only goal in the match against Scotland. With Hamburg he has learned to play in a style befitting of Dutch tradition, finding himself defending at one moment and firing in a cross at the opposite end of the field in the next.
How Far Can They Get
The Netherlands are in Group E, with Japan, Denmark and Cameroon. Getting out of the group should be easy as pie, with the second round being a near-lock as well. I predict they will face either Paraguay or Slovakia in that round, and will advance through to the quarter-finals, where they will meet Brazil. With Brazil the favorites of many, it is quite possible that the Dutch dream of World Cup glory will stop there. On the other hand, the Oranje are one of the few teams with the ability to beat A Seleção, and if they can beat Brazil, they could defeat history and find themselves winning the final.
|June 14||Denmark||Johannesburg (Soccer City)|
|June 24||Cameroon||Cape Town|
|Boschker, Sander||29||0||0||Twente (Netherlands)|
|Stekelenburg, Maarten||27||26||0||Ajax (Netherlands)|
|Vorm, Michael||26||3||0||Utrecht (Netherlands)|
|Boulahrouz, Khalid||28||29||0||Stuttgart (Germany)|
|Braafheid, Edson||27||6||0||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|Heitinga, John||26||52||6||Everton (England)|
|Mathijsen, Joris||20||54||3||Hamburg (Germany)|
|Ooijer, Andre||35||53||3||PSV (Netherlands)|
|van Bronckhorst, Giovanni||35||97||5||Feyenoord (Netherlands)|
|van der Wiel, Gregory||22||8||0||Ajax (Netherlands)|
|Afellay, Ibrahim||24||21||0||PSV (Netherlands)|
|de Jong, Nigel||25||40||1||Manchester City (England)|
|de Zeeuw, Demy||27||24||0||Ajax (Netherlands)|
|Schaars, Stijn||26||12||0||AZ (Netherlands)|
|Sneijder, Wesley||26||59||12||Internazionale (Italy)|
|van Bommel, Mark||33||54||9||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|van der Vaart, Rafeal||27||76||15||Real Madrid (Spain)|
|Babel, Ryan||23||38||5||Liverpool (England)|
|Elia, Eljero||23||6||2||Hamburg (Germany)|
|Huntelaar, Klaas-Jan||26||31||15||Milan (Italy)|
|Kuyt, Dirk||29||61||14||Liverpool (England)|
|Robben, Arjen||26||46||11||Bayern Munich (Germany)|
|van Persie, Robin||26||42||16||Arsenal (England)|
* - age as of June 11, 2010
There is nothing Kirsten Schelwitz would like more than a few more of the Netherlands' elite talents to find their way to Villa Park. You can read her writings on Aston Villa at 7500 to Holte, part of the SB Nation soccer family.
For more World Cup coverage, visit the Dirty Tackle blog from our partners at Yahoo!