Traditionally known as a team that plays mesmerising, creative football but ultimately falls short of glory, the Netherlands will be desperate to re-shape the public perception of them this summer following a hugely impressive qualifying campaign under the stewardship of the experienced Bert van Marwijk.
After being drawn in Group 9 of the UEFA section for World Cup qualifying alongside Norway, Scotland, Macedonia and Iceland, van Marwijk’s side proceeded to sweep aside all obstacles that were placed it its path, becoming the first European team to book a place in South Africa with a 100% record and a goal difference fully 13 goals better than that of second-placed Norway.
Players of the calibre of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, two of Europe’s finest players this season, give Holland an edge up front, a technical brilliance which can see them destroy teams which show even the merest hint of weakness at the back. In combination with this undoubted flair is the maturity and awareness of players like Mark van Bommel, Rafael van der Vaart and Giovanni van Bronkhorst, players who, should the team find itself in any difficulty, are able to keep their cool and think their way out of any given situation. It is this balance, an equilibrium between pragmatism and flair, that gives Dutch fans such great hopes ahead of this summer’s tournament.
With van Marwijk continually alternating between the 4-2-3-1 and 4-2-1-3 systems, predicting the Netherlands’ strategy and line-up is not particularly easy, although the fact that the team adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation against both Norway and Scotland – arguably the two strongest of the Oranje’s opponents in qualification – perhaps suggests that that is the system the Dutch will favour in South Africa. If so, expect to see Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel protecting the back four with Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben deployed just behind a lone striker, one of either Dirk Kuyt or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Of course, this system is not fixed, and van Marwijk will undoubtedly leave an element of flexibility, allowing for Robben and van Persie to get forward and create a rudimentary 4-2-1-3 if necessary.
Although questions have been raised as to the quality of the Dutch defence, this is a team with plenty of quality and enough world-class creativity to make them a threat to any opponent in South Africa and one of the main contenders to win football’s ultimate prize. van Marwijk will be hoping that his team is not another in a long line of Dutch teams that have promised so much and delivered relatively little on the biggest stage of them all. Could 2010 be a turning point in the recent history of football in the Netherlands?
Probable starting XI: Stekelenburg (Ajax); Heitinga (Everton), Ooijer (PSV Eindhoven), Mathijsen (Hamburg), van Bronkhorst (Feyenoord); de Jong (Manchester City), van Bommel (Bayern Munich); Robben (Bayern Munich), Sneijder (Inter), van Persie (Arsenal); Kuyt (Liverpool)
The Road to South Africa: 1st in UEFA Group 9
World Ranking: 4th
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