Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk has every reason to be pleased with his team at the present time. The Dutch have bounced back in impressive style from an unlucky exit at UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland with a string of consistently high-quality displays.
The men in orange last lost back in September 2008, a 2-1 friendly defeat to Australia in Eindhoven. Since then, Van Marwijk's men have won six and drawn one of their last seven matches. That striking record has now made an impact on the latest edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
Best since 2005
In the new listing for June, Rafael van der Vaart and Co have leapfrogged Germany to go second for the first time since October 2005. The only team ahead of the eight-time FIFA World Cup™ participants are reigning European champions Spain.
In the course of the last month, Van Marwijk's side earned 82 ranking points, more than any other FIFA member association, and now boast 1,442 points in total. The Dutch are still a daunting 319 points off the Iberian leaders, but have moved 64 clear of the third-placed Germans.
I do think we're one of the best in the world right now. But more and more teams can say that, as recent tournaments have shown.
A healthy dose of confidence and self-belief underpins the Netherlands' recent rich run of form. "We're among the best teams in the world," team captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst recently declared in a FIFA.com interview.
Central defender Joris Mathijsen similarly believes in the quality liberally distributed throughout the squad, but warned his team-mates not to think they can rest on their laurels, as he told FIFA.com. "I do think we're one of the best in the world right now. But more and more teams can say that, as recent tournaments have shown. You have to prove yourself time and time again," explained Mathijsen, one of three ever-presents in his side's FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign alongside Van Bronckhorst and Mark van Bommel.
Huntelaar and Kuyt impress
This coming Saturday, 6 June 2009, the Elftal can harvest the first fruits of their commanding run of results. Victory over Iceland in Reykjavik would see the Dutch become the first European nation to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, handing them the luxury of extra time to prepare for next year's global showcase tournament.
Up to now, Van Marwijk's men have not put a foot wrong in qualifying, taking the maximum 15 points from five matches with 12 goals for and just one against. That record includes victories away to FYR Macedonia and Norway, but the captain remains cautious: "It could still all go wrong. We won't celebrate until we're mathematically certain of qualifying," Van Bronckhorst said.
Picking up where they left off at last year's EURO, the Dutch favour an exhilarating brand of fast-paced attacking football. The goal-getting skills of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Dirk Kuyt have played a significant role. The Real Madrid and Liverpool strikers have three goals apiece, thus accounting for half their country's total so far.
If former Borussia Dortmund boss Van Marwijk can maintain his side's drive, motivation, creativity and belief, the Dutch will go to the south of Africa next year as one of the favourites to lift the coveted trophy. After finishing runners-up in both 1974 and 1978, the latest generation in orange are desperate to go one better. As Mathijsen said: "We want to get as far as we can, preferably as far as the Final, of course. But qualifying is the highest priority for now."