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Looking for a Dutch of class

For this World Cup Holland are the new Germany. They have not suddenly become three-time winners, nor are they expected to struggle in their group or be afraid of meeting England in the second round. Match 9, Group E

sports Updated: Jun 14, 2010 02:00 IST

For this World Cup Holland are the new Germany. They have not suddenly become three-time winners, nor are they expected to struggle in their group or be afraid of meeting England in the second round. But they have based themselves in a hotel right in the middle of Johannesburg, in Sandton, where most of the fans and tourists congregate and where the nights are noisy with vuvuzelas and chatter from the restaurants that line Nelson Mandela Square.

It has been fairly easy to spot Ruud Gullit or Ronald Koeman mixing with the multitude, and fans appreciate such easygoing informality.

The Dutch have gone for the middle of town that came to a standstill when thousands of supporters came out to greet the Bafana Bafana boys waving from the top of an open-top bus before they had even kicked a World Cup ball.

It doesn't bother the Dutch coach because Bert van Marwijk thinks boredom and solitude might be worse alternatives.
“I remember when I was a player how it felt after being in a hotel for just two or three days,” he explained. “It can be boring. I also know that with Dutch players in the same hotel for several weeks there will be some things happening, but that's not a problem. Not everything will go well but that's good, because teams who learn to manage these things off the pitch will have more resilience on it.”

That's a grown-up attitude, and it might even work, although Van Marwijk is clearly hinting at the way things have gone wrong for Holland at tournaments in the past. Internal divisions and tensions have tended to rise to the surface. Van Marwijk believes the Dutch “arrogance” can be channelled and need not be an obstacle to them winning a first World Cup.

It is certainly about time Holland won it. Even if their efforts over the last decade have been rather feeble — they failed to qualify in 2002 and went out in the round of 16 last time —they have been in finals, brought a great deal of quality to modern World Cups and not infrequently looked the best team, only for their inability to handle tournaments to let them down.

For Holland in World Cups, however, nothing is ever quite as straightforward as it could be. Things conspire against them, injuries and accidents happen, and always to the most important players. Holland dismissed Argentina in 1998 in the round after they had knocked out England. When Dennis Bergkamp scored his wonder goal in Marseille it was impossible to believe there was a better team in the tournament, a feeling that the eventual final between France and Brazil did nothing to contradict. Holland initially looked good at the last European Championships too, so it is surprising that they are going into this World Cup with comparatively little expectation.

Perhaps it is to Holland's advantage that they are not among the favourites to win. Their chances are not being talked up, and that may suit them. There is another factor that may work in their favour. Almost all their players play in different leagues, outside their own country. As Van Marwijk has pointed out, most of Spain's players play in Spain, Germany's in Germany, England's in England, and so on.