After defeat in their country’s two previous World Cup finals, the Netherlands’ players are determined not to put lavish skill ahead of single-minded focus a third time on Sunday.
The Dutch reached the 1974 and ‘78 finals with some of the football’s greatest players, but each time the host nation overturned the strutting Oranje.
After Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Uruguay, coach Bert van Marwijk is determined to make sure that a six-game winning streak at this tournament does not bring out the traditional Dutch weakness of assuming the next victory is a foregone conclusion.
“We know we can play football,” captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst said. “To be mentally strong is now most important.” Van Marwijk’s memories of the 1974 tournament, when the Dutch thrilled the world only to then be beaten 2-1 by a single-minded German team, are too strong for him to let his players fall to the same weakness.
If they lose at Johannesburg’s Soccer City, it won’t be through lack of preparation.
“Often when we start beating people, we become overly confident and then we are sent home,” Van Marwijk said. “We did lose the match whereas we should have won it because we played wonderfully well.
“Johan Cruyff was the best football player that ever existed.” Van Marwijk now wears winning ugly as a badge of honor.
The Dutch on a record 25-game unbeaten streak that includes 10 straight wins. Assistant coach Frank de Boer was there in 1998 as a defender when the Dutch last reached the semifinals only to be eliminated by Germany in a penalty shootout. He also senses much has changed. “In 98, we were happy just to get in the semis and could play Brazil,” he said.
He noticed the same in the Uruguay players and already knew victory was coming when the players first put foot on the pitch a few hours ahead of the semifinal.
“Let me give you a small example: I’d knew we’d win when a saw a half dozen of their players came onto the field with their cameras _ and I am talking starting lineup players. They filmed the stadium, filmed the players,” showing they were happy just to be there.
“Then I knew our approach was much better. That is why it is that important to keep that focus.”
And De Boer and Van Marwijk have the support from players who usually love nothing better than flaunt their skills. Striker Robin van Persie said the players won’t get carried away by an occasion marked by millions back home painting villages and cities in the team’s orange color.
“I will only realize it looking back,” Van Persie said. “Now I have this tunnel vision, and you just do what you have to do.” Forward Dirk Kuyt knows how bad it is to lose a final after going down to AC Milan while playing for Liverpool in the 2007 Champions League showpiece.
“I was there and I know what it is,” Kuyt said.
“It is not going to happen to me a second time.”