Can Sweden end Holland's winning run?

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Holland have won every single qualifying match they have played in the past three years. That’s 17 in a row. The Dutch secured a ticket for last year’s World Cup with a perfect record and now they’re about to do the same for next year’s European Championship. Unless the Swedes manage to stop the orange juggernaut when they meet in Stockholm on Tuesday. But the hosts fear Holland won’t let them.

It’s the numbers one and two playing their final Euro 2012 Group E match and Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt is looking forward to it. “It’ll be an exciting game,” he says. “Sweden will have to beat us to achieve direct qualification. It’s the last home game for them too. And we just want to win every game in this qualifying group.”

The Swedes are forewarned; the Dutch won’t rest on their laurels. Even though they’ve met all their targets. Last month, they booked themselves a berth to next year’s Championship finals when they beat Finland 2-0 in Helsinki. Last Friday’s 1-0 win against Moldova earned them the privileged status of top seed for the draw for the finals. But Holland have no intention of loosening the reins.

“Winning every game will enable us to grow as a team,” Kuyt explains. “So we try to play every game better and better, so that we are more than prepared for next year’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine.” 


Strong team spirit
Against such a motivated team, Sweden will be very lucky to win, says Johan Orrenius, sports reporter for Expressen, a Swedish nationwide evening tabloid. Orrenius has closely followed the Dutch national team since last year’s World Cup. He is impressed by the mentality of this generation of Dutch stars.

“They really act like a team now. That used to be our main thing in Sweden: that we didn’t really have the players but we were a solid team, hard to beat. Holland has that now, plus they have a lot more skills than us, and that combination makes them even harder to beat.” 

Superstars absent
Holland may be missing star attraction Wesley Sneijder and another half a dozen key players due to injury, but there’s still plenty of pedigree left, says Orrenius. Besides, Sweden will have to do without suspended star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. His absence may be a blessing in disguise, according to the Expressen reporter.

“Everyone in Sweden remembers the previous match against Holland. That 4-1 defeat in Amsterdam a year ago was like a horror film for us. And now we’re playing without our best player Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Don’t know if that’s a bad thing though, because sometimes other players rise to the occasion when he’s not there. Other people expect magic from Zlatan all the time and just stand and watch him. Now they’ll have to do it on their own.”

Great spectacle
Ironically, Bert van Marwijk misses Ibrahimovic too. The Holland coach is a great admirer of the tall Swede, he told a press conference on Monday. Van Marwijk expects a tough game and a great atmosphere:

“When I look at the stadium [The Rasunda stadium in Sonda, ed], the stands on the short ends are steeply raked and close to the pitch. I love that. There’ll be a tremendous atmosphere. And I think they’ll try to disrupt our game using every available means. Which means we’ll have to exercise discipline and not allow ourselves to be provoked.”

Meanwhile, the Swedes are drawing hope from similar conditions five years ago, says Orrenius:

“People in Sweden remember the game against Spain in 2006, also in Stockholm this time of year. Zlatan wasn’t playing and we were super underdogs, but we won 2-0. Good counter-attacks, good defence. We’re hoping for something like that now, certainly we can’t be as naïve as we were in Holland a year ago.”