After competing in both the 1934 and 1938 editions, Netherlands did not appear in a FIFA World Cup™ final tournament until returning in style in 1974. Despite finishing runners-up both then and in 1978, they missed out in 1982 and were again left on the sidelines four years later, a disappointment that was repeated ahead of Korea/Japan 2002, when they were pipped by Portugal and Republic of Ireland to a place at the first Asian edition. They have not slipped up since and the generation of players which reached the UEFA EURO 2008 quarter-finals followed a faultless path to South Africa 2010, winning all eight of their games along the way. They thus headed into their ninth finals full of confidence, as their performances on South African soil duly revealed.
FIFA World Cup finals history
With legendary coach Rinus Michels pulling the strings from the bench, Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Co won their way through to the Final in 1974, only to lose out to the hosts. Four years on, their revolutionary Total Football again took them to the showpiece, but history repeated itself as they suffered another defeat to the host nation, succumbing 3-1 in Buenos Aires. The Oranje then experienced Final heartbreak for a third time in Johannesburg, coming within four minutes of taking Spain to penalties before Andres Iniesta crushed their dreams.
The current crop
Continuity is key for Netherlands, with the side that shone in South Africa being kept together for UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying and ready to target a place at Brazil 2014. Their style has remained consistent too, the spectacular football of previous generations having been shelved in favour of a more pragmatic approach. The likes of Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben add their own touches of individual magic to the mix.
The key players
The Oranje boast a bewildering array of talent on paper, especially in attack, where Sneijder, Van der Vaart, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Ibrahim Affelay, Dirk Kuyt and Robben can all make the difference. At the back, Giovanni van Bronckhorst has retired, but Gregory van der Wiel, John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen provide equally stout resistance.
Coach: Louis Van Gaal
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Germany 1974, Argentina 1978, South Africa 2010 (Runners-up), FIFA Futsal World Cup Netherlands 1989 (Runners-up), Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 1908, Stockholm 1912, Antwerp 1920 (Third place), FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005 (Third place)
Former stars: Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp