Could The Future Be Oranje?

After my cynicism about Spain yesterday, Arindam asked the pertinent question – “what about the Dutch?”Fair point. After all, if there is one team that can rival the Spaniards for under-achievement, it’s the Dutch. With one European Cup to show for not only some of the most prodigious talent, but also some of the most forward thinking and innovative coaches in the world, the Dutch must really ponder what they need to do to win a world cup.

Twice beaten finalists, in 1974 and 1978, the former famously the final where they Dutch scored before West Germany had touched the ball, the Dutch have given us total football, Rinus Michels, Johann Cryuff, Gullit and Van Basten, Guus Hiddink, Van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben, the De Boer twins, Mark Overmaars, Denis Bergkamp, Jaap Stam and Van Der Saar, just to name a few. Yet, the Euro 1988 remains their only major trophy in all these years, a tournament lit up by the Van Basten volley that surely ranks among the best goals ever.

So why has the Dutch trophy cabinet been so bare? Well in recent times, there have been many accusations of a lack of team spirit, and a fair amount of infighting between the Dutch. Even in recent times, they have put in too many disjointed performances be considered a significant force. In Euro 2008, they looked very good but were undone by Arshavin and Russia in the quarter final. They were also a great team on paper in 2006, but fell in the first knock out round to Portugal, after having qualified from a “group of death” including Argentina, Ivory Coast and Serbia-Montenegro.

In South Africa too, the Dutch have talent to spare. Even without the mercurial Robben, they have Van Persie, Sneijder,  Kuyt, Huntelaar, Van Bommel, Van Der Vaart, De Jong, Heitinga, Mathijsen et al. Certainly a team that can give any opposition a hard time. But even now, doubts persist. Sneijder is known to be a particularly divisive figure. He had a bust up with Van Persie at the Euro 2008 tournament and is not known for endearing himself to team mates. Van Persie is brilliant but brittle. Robben has already been ruled out of much if not all of the World Cup. Sadly, I struggle to see how the Dutch can get it all together for this effort. The omission of Van Der Saar as one of the 3 goalkeepers is also one of the biggest shocks of the squad selection for the World Cup.

To be fair this is by no means the best Dutch team ever, so while on the one hand expectations will be reasonably modest, this could well be the making of this team. Less stars, more team spirit might just be the ticket for the Dutch. Certainly players like Kuyt exemplify the team spirit and work ethic required for the team to progress.

Netherlands should progress easily by topping Group E, with Denmark, Cameroon and Japan. They should then play the runners up of Group F – likely to be Paraguay. Following which they will probably run into Brazil in the quarterfinals and this might be where they come unstuck. Of course, if Italy underperform in Group F and fail to top the group, it could set up an interesting Netherlands-Italy clash in the first qualifying round. And I wouldn’t put money on Netherlands to beat the seasoned pros that Italy always are, at a major tournament.

The World Cup always throws up a few surprises. I’ll be happy if Netherlands progress to the final is one of them. It would be just reward for all the talent and stardust that the Dutch have sprinkled across all the major European leagues over the years.

World Cup Link of the Day

Thanks to Karuna for finding this and sending it to me: a superbly designed single view of the tournament

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