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?After the goals, we slowed down?

Says Van Basten, but the Dutch fans don?t mind as long as the team wins.

india Updated: Jun 18, 2006 10:53 IST

It didn't take any telling which team the stern-looking woman wearing a black vest and a headband coloured gold, black and white was rooting for. With a small German flag painted on her face, she was telling anybody who cared to listen — most didn't — how Holland messed it up earlier in the evening. "They vere terrible," she said, the intensity of her statement coming through despite her halting English.

A can of Carslberg in hand, a burly Dutch didn't agree. And that made for an interesting conversation on platform No 10 at the Stuttgart Central Station late Friday night. "It doesn't matter so long as we win. If Holland win playing terrible football, it's okay. You get nothing for playing the best football in the world and not winning.

“And, by the way, didn't it take Germany till the 92nd minute the other night," he said. "Look at our group and look at yours. You guys are playing fu*****g Costa Rica and Poland while we run into the Argentines and the Ivorians. I would have liked to see Germany playing Ivory Coast."

The woman, a glass of coffee in hand, listened intently. A man in a blue T-shirt joined them and they all raise their beer or coffee to a fresh round of prost (cheers) before the Dutch asks him whether he is German. "No, I am from Greece." That did it. "Look at them, they play the worst football in the competition and they are the European champions. Bad football wins," the Dutch said. The Greek smiled sheepishly.

Outnumbered and unable to argue in an alien language, the woman lit a fresh cigarette and said, "Okay, we shall see who wins in the end." Sometime before a possible quarter-final showdown, it was game, set, match Holland.

Not far away from the debate, a young Holland fan was involved in more technical analysis. "Our defence is our weakest link and we need to get more bodies at the back.

“The midfield isn't helping the backline as much they should. If we play like this, we'll have a problem," he said.

By his estimate, 25,000 people had crossed over for this game, paying a minimum of 45 euros a ticket and a discount price of 190 euros for travel. Most of them would change trains at Mannheim and Mainz, reaching home on Saturday morning.

If Marco van Basten agreed with this young Dutch, he didn't show it. Fiddling with a water bottle cap through the post-match press conference, the Dutch coach said he was happy with the defence's performance. "They have very strong players in Didier Drogba, Arouna Kone, Yaya Toure and Emmanuel Eboue," he said.

"To concede only one goal against them is not bad. Look at Argentina. They are proud of their defenders but remember how they were hassled by Cote d' Ivorie."

Van Basten said Holland paid for sitting back a little after scoring two goals. "We started very well, made two early goals and then sat back a little. And everybody could see how strong they were. They were so strong that for the last 45 minutes, we could only defend," he said.

He agreed that the friendly against Cameroon helped them prepare for this tie. "Africa always has a few good teams and I think Cote d' Ivorie can join them now. I think they are one of the strongest teams in the continent now. We are proud that we could beat them today."

A little earlier, surprise Man of the Match candidate Arjen Robben said: "Ivory Coast were very impressive. They can be very proud of themselves and played both matches very well. They were unlucky to be up against strong teams like us and Argentina."

Along with memories of football's biggest show, Ivory Coast can take home with them some words of praise as they fly out next week.

Country ahead of club at World Cup

After country, club. It may have been the other way round but this, after all, is the World Cup. Arjen Robben was asked if he felt bad that friend and Chelsea mate Didier Drogba will go home after the first round.

"Yes, I am sorry that he can't stay but he can now go on a long holiday and come back refreshed for us next season," he said.

First Published: Jun 18, 2006 10:53 IST