Ask anyone to think about the Dutch game and the concept of Total Football will immediately spring to mind. In the 1970s, the playing philosophy was the trademark of the Oranje side spearheaded by the likes of Johan Cruyff and Ruud Krol, a style characterised by exceptional technique and physique. It is therefore little wonder that futsal is hugely popular in the Netherlands, and that the European nation has played a significant role in the sport's development.
"We like technique, possession and playing well," said Marcel Loosveld, current coach of the Dutch national futsal team, in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "In futsal you get the ball a lot so you have to have a good technique. You get a lot of goalscoring chances and it's very fast-paced. We Dutch people like that. It's all down to our football culture."
The maiden FIFA Futsal World Cup was held in 1989 in the Netherlands, where the hosts were only beaten in the final by Brazil. They qualified for the next three tournaments but were eliminated in the second round each time. The Oranje failed to reach the three subsequent editions, with their last outing on the global stage coming in 2000. They are aiming to finally end that barren spell at Colombia 2016, but face one final hurdle en route to the competition: a play-off against Azerbaijan, the first leg of which is on Tuesday.
"We'll need to be focused because the World Cup is just around the corner now," Dutch team captain Zaid El Morabiti told FIFA.com. "It's a very important match. It would be unbelievable if we make it." The nation's passion for futsal will be evident once again at the game. "I've heard that it's sold-out," enthused the attacker. "There'll be 2,220 spectators there. It'll be a great game."
The encounter offers the Netherlands the chance to build on past glories and return to the sport's elite. "We didn't approach development aggressively enough," said Loosveld, disappointed with the progress made in his homeland. "For example, back then Spain weren't very far along but they did a lot in order to develop. That was neglected by us and I think that's a real shame. We definitely forgot to take some important steps."
The 53-year-old played at the 1989 Futsal World Cup and was even on target in the final to level the score at 1-1. Loosveld believes one of the disadvantages facing the Netherlands is that there is no professional league in the country, meaning his players are unaccustomed to playing difficult matches like the ones encountered in World Cup qualifying.
Yet he views the fact that the play-off comprises only two matches against the same opponent - rather than a full qualifying campaign - as an advantage: "We're only concentrating on one team and can analyse them properly and prepare ourselves in the right way."
Attack is the best form of defence
Nothing will be left to chance over the two-legged tie. "We need to try to defend in their half," said Loosveld. "We're at our best when we have the ball, so we have to try to get it as soon as possible. The quickest way of doing that is in the opposition half." El Morabiti, who works as a teacher, added: "Details will be decisive. For example, we must be focused at corners, free-kicks and when it's five against four."
Speaking to the 31-year-old, it is noticeable how eager he is to fulfil his dream of participating at the global showdown: "I think this will be my last chance of playing at a World Cup. I've played at every major futsal tournament but never at a World Cup."
That is an experience his coach has had, even if "he doesn't like talking about it," according to El Morabiti. Loosveld insists he has "very nice" memories of the tournament on home turf, but considers it to "be in the past".
The present involves Azerbaijan, and the hope is that the future lies in Colombia. Both the coach and his captain are upbeat going into the clash. "I think the chances are 50-50," said El Morabiti. "They have some good players but they're not Portugal, Russia or Spain. If we were playing them we'd only have a 20 per cent chance."
In reply to a final question of whether the Netherlands will reach the tournament in Colombia, both men gave the same answer independently of each other: a confident and unequivocal "yes". Hope therefore lives on for the futsal-crazy Dutch that their lengthy World Cup drought is approaching its end.