Lean, tall and with vision and presence in the middle of the park, Netherlands creator Hedwiges Maduro has been turning heads for some time. He made his senior team debut in the qualifiers for Germany 2006 when he was only 19. Around that time he was also lining up with a U-20 side that included current Olympic team-mate Ryan Babel and Urby Emanuelson at the FIFA U-20 World Cup on home soil.
"Of course I remember that tournament," Maduro tells FIFA.com with a broad smile. "We went to the quarter-finals and the crowds really came out to support us. It was a special time for me and my team-mates. Some of us really came to be known during those finals."
Three years ago, the Dutch were tipped for glory, but were pipped by a smashing Nigerian outfit after a marathon penalty shoot-out in the quarters in Kerkrade. Many of those same Nigerians, like Promise Isaac, goalkeeper Ambruse Vanzekin, Monday James and Olubayo Adefemi, were on hand Thursday night in Tianjin when the Dutch opened their Olympic campaign with a 0-0 draw.
"It's funny, I see them (the Nigerians) around the hotel and I remember them from that great game," says Maduro. "During our game here it was all business, but after the whistle it was like a reunion, with us all shaking hands and exchanging some memories of that game in Kerkrade in 2005."
A few years older and wiser, this Dutch U-23 side are the current champions of Europe and came into the competition as one of the big favourites. But another draw against Nigeria has dented their confidence a bit. Unable to score a goal, the Dutch are motivated to do so in their next game against group leaders the US.
"The draw was not the worst result in the world, but I think we can play better than we did that day," Maduro said. "The draw was probably a fair result, but we'll be hoping to get the goals going when we meet the Americans."
The USA will not be an unknown quantity for Maduro and Co as they had the chance to the see them play at the ING Cup in Hong Kong earlier this month, though the two did not meet in the competition. Still, the former Ajax man and current Valencia players has a lot of respect for the North Americans and will not be taking them lightly.
"They are good, but I think we match up against their direct style more than we do against the technical creative style of Nigeria," said Maduro, who has roots on the Caribbean island of Aruba. "If we keep the ball on the ground and get it moving around, I think we'll be ok."
All in the family
The primary factor working in his team's favour is not the breakaway pace of Real Madrid winger Royston Drenthe, the nose for goal of wily Roy Makaay, who might miss the game with a foot injury, or the searing pace of Ryan Babel. According to Maduro, a family ethic and a strong bond will see the Dutch through.
"I've been playing with these guys for a very long time," he said, aware that Netherlands teams of the past have often been criticised for in-fighting and cliquishness. "It really helps. It's like being a family. If you say something to another guy in the team he's not going to get mad at you puff out his chest.
"We're like a bunch of brothers," the midfielder concluded.