Ambitious Oranges in South Africa

May 26, 2010

KARACHI: Blessed with talent but deprived of luck, the Netherlands are making their ninth World Cup appearance, having bagged only the runner-up spots during their previous golden years in 1974 and 1978.

But with players like Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, Mark van Bommel and Robin van Persie at their disposal, the Oranje of the Netherlands will be looking to lift the trophy, an achievement that has evaded them for 32 years.

The Netherlands tend to burst onto the scene in major championships with in-form players and flowing football, setting a breath-taking pace in the group stages, only to freeze in the knock-out stages.

Often seen as spectacular, but mentally fragile, the Dutch made a last- 16 exit at the hands of Portugal four years ago in Germany and were thrashed in extra-time by Argentina 3-1 in the 1978 World Cup final, a heartache that was a repeat of the 1974 final.

They rolled over World Cup finalists France and Italy in Euro 2008 only to lose to an Arshavin Pavlyuchenko-led Russia in the quarter-finals.

Restructuring bears fruit

Coach Bert van Marwijk took over as coach from the legendary Marco van Basten and that paid off well with the Dutch winning eight straight matches and conceding just two goals in the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Van Marwijk has maintained Van Basten’s lone striker formation with Robin Van Persie replacing the retired Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s as the marksman, looking to pick nifty midfield balls from the likes of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. The Inter Milan playmaker’s reading of the situation and pinpoint passing shone in the Champions League final while Robben became the Bundesliga’s biggest revelation this year, after transferring from Real Madrid.

Tight company

The Netherlands were the first side from Europe to book their ticket to South Africa. They start as firm favourites in a tight Group E with Japan, Cameroon and Denmark set to fight for second place. They must be careful of Denmark, while Japan are tenacious and have made the second round before.

If Holland top the group, their opponent in the next round will be the second placed team in Group H. Italy are expected to come first in that group, while Slovakia, Paraguay and New Zealand will battle for second.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 27th, 2010.