Amsterdam, May 30 (DPA) Dutch football is best remembered for two World Cup runner-up finishes in 1974 and 1978. The superstars of the 2010 Netherlands squad are hoping to change that and finally capture World Cup glory.
Coach Bert van Marwijk undoubtedly will have one of the most talented sides at South Africa 2010 – even though veterans Edwin van der Saar and Ruud van Nistelrooy have both bid adieu to the national team.
Still the likes of Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben, Inter Milan’s Wesley Snijder and Real Madrid playmaker Rafael van der Vaart definitely conjure up images of former Dutch legends Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten.
But van Marwijk’s group want to take the Netherlands a step further than Cruyff, Gullit and van Basten were able to. ‘We’ve all got the same aim in the squad: we want to win the World Cup,’ said Inter Milan playmaker Wesley Sneijder told fifa.com recently.
The way the Dutch blazed through their European qualification campaign, the rest of the world had best watch out. Van Marwijk’s men won all eight matches in Group 9 and left Norway and Scotland behind them. In fact, the Dutch gave up only two goals – to Iceland and Macedonia.
And that leaves the Netherlands with a bit of history on their side. The last team to reach the World Cup without dropping a single point in qualifying – West Germany in 1982 – played in the final.
Van Marwijk, who took the Dutch hot seat from van Basten after the team was thrashed by Russia 3-1 in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals, has plenty of leaders on his team even besides the aforementioned quartet of stars.
His son-in-law, veteran midfielder Mark van Bommel has returned into the team after refusing to play under van Basten while Joris Mathijsen, veteran captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Nigel De Jong are all still in the mix.
Those veterans will help Ajax Amsterdam keeper Marten Stekelenburg take over between the posts from van der Sar and bring along impressive newcomer Eljero Elio.
But past Dutch sides have been extremely talented as well but not brought home the hardware – save for the 1988 European Championship and fourth place at the 1998 World Cup.
Holland even missed out on qualification for the 2002 World Cup before bowing out to Portugal in the Round of 16 at Germany 2006. But van Marwijk seems to have his team on the right path heading to South Africa.
That stable mentality and harmony within the team may be crucial as past big tournaments have been marred by in-house fighting and criticism from outside by the many football legends.
The coach: Bert van Marwijk, 57, played one game for the Dutch national team, as well as almost 400 top flight games in the Netherlands. He won the 1978 Dutch cup with AZ Alkmaar. A coach since 1990, he led Feyenoord Rotterdam to the 2002 UEFA Cup title and took the national team job in 2008.
Van Marwijk, who will have former Dutch stars Phillip Cocu and Frank de Boer as assistants, already has one world title, together with his father in 1975 in the card game Belote.
The father-in-law of Dutch international Mark van Bommel, van Marwijk is known as being calm, affable and discrete but also approachable. And he believes it’s important to be close to his players.
The star: Arjen Robben, 26, is the latest example of a classic Dutch winger. He has four domestic league titles with PSV Eindhoven (2003), Chelsea (2005, 2006) and Real Madrid (2008) before joining Bayern Munich in 2009.
The speedy Robben can play on the left and the right wing, with the 2010 World Cup his fourth major event following Euro 2004, 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008. Robben has been prone to injuries throughout his career, but if healthy he will be a key man for van Marwijk.
Robben showed at Bayern in 2009-10 just how much impact he can have on a team – including his tremendous ability to score important goals.