One in three Dutch people say it’s a dead cert: “Oranje” – as the Dutch football team is known in the Netherlands – is going to win the World Cup in South Africa. The streets are turning red, white and blue (the colours of the national flag) and orange (the colour of the national football team). Five reasons why the World Cup could become the biggest Dutch party of 2010.
1. The Big Four
The Dutch team has the Big Four: Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart. No other side in the World Cup has four such technically gifted and prodigiously goal-scoring strikers. The only question is whether manager Bert van Marwijk dares to field them all at once, as Robin van Persie would like.
Van Persie could well prove to be the biggest of the Big Four. After months convalescing from a serious ankle injury, he’s now in top form for the World Cup. It’s tempting to make the comparison with Marco van Basten, who recovered from a serious injury just before Euro 1988 and led the Dutch squad to victory. Then there’s Wesley Sneijder, who captained Inter Milan to become the Italian champions, win the Coppa Italia and take the Champions League trophy. Arjen Robben triumphed with Bayern Munich and was named the best player in the Bundesliga. And Rafael van der Vaart, who Real Madrid dumped at first, came back to establish himself as a regular goal scorer for the team. Just give these four players the chance to do their stuff, and Holland will be flying back with the cup.
2. The Terrible Two
In midfield there are two butchers of the merciless Italian type. Mark van Bommel (Bayern Munich) has a knack for putting his opponents out of action professionally, without exactly keeping to the rules. What’s more, he’s no mean playmaker. And he’ll be side by side with Nigel de Jong (Manchester City) – who may look friendlier than Van Bommel, but he’s just as tough.
3. Manager Bert
After the unsuccessful Louis van Gaal, the inconsistent Dick Advocaat and the unpredictable Marco van Basten, since 2008 the dependable Bert van Marwijk has been in charge of Oranje. Since then the Dutch team hasn’t lost a match. They even won all the World Cup qualifying matches. The stoical Van Marwijk has the gift of holding the team steady in spite of all the player’s egos. He’s no tactical mastermind and is wary of experimenting, but he makes up for it with his experience and talent for teambuilding.
4. No competition
The Dutch team doesn’t face much opposition. In Group E the Netherlands has drawn against Denmark, Japan and Cameroon, which makes it a cinch. Johan Cruijff wrote, “The draw for the group phase is ideal to the extent that if you do what you have to do the quarter-finals must be possible.” That is when the real competition begins, but every team has got its own problems:
· The Italian team, current world champions, are too old and lack a good striker.
· Brazil has a pretty good team with perhaps the best keeper, Julio Cesar. But they’re stuck with a poorly-performing Kaká. What’s more Brazil’s in the so-called Group of Death, with Portugal, Cote d’Ivoire and North Korea.
· Argentina has a great team, but a bad manager (Diego Maradona, with all due respect).
· Germany’s missing playmaker Michael Ballack due to injury.
· England is missing David Beckham and has to cope with the players having flings with each other’s wives.
· In France, everyone’s fed up with the national team, especially manager Raymond Domenech.
· And European Champion Spain has the statistics stacked against it. Spain has played in the World Cup 12 times, but only got as far as the semi-finals once, 60 years ago.
5. Everyone’s supporting Oranje
‘Orange fever’ in the Netherlands is raging harder than ever. Houses, streets, and even entire neighbourhoods are turning orange. Thirty-four percent of the Dutch think their team is going to bring home the cup. More than 5000 Dutch fans are making the 10,000-kilometre journey to South Africa. And even al-Qaeda seems to be backing the Dutch team. When a Saudi terror suspect said he was planning to stage an attack on the Dutch team, al-Qaeda denied everything, describing the story as “cheap lies”.
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