Going Dutch is becoming a profitable habit in Australian football. The senior side have been the most obvious beneficiaries, with Guus Hiddink igniting and Pim Verbeek fuelling this love affair with all things Oranje. Yet, if anything, the Dutch influence is even more pronounced in the Aussie U-20 set-up.
Jan Versleijen, the team's coach, is a countryman of Hiddink and Verbeek's, and his CV includes stints in charge of the Netherlands' U-17 and U-23 sides. Yet the connection does not begin and end with the man at the top. After all, their captain and star player, the aptly-named James Holland, plays his club football for Eredivisie champions AZ.
Given these links, when it came to choosing a country in which to step up the Young Socceroos' preparations for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the choice was obvious. So it was that Versleijen took his players to the little Dutch towns of Terborg or Uitgeest to compete in two youth tournaments against the likes of PSV, Liverpool, Gremio and Valencia.
Both augered well for the Aussies' prospects at Egypt 2009. First up was the ten-team Terborg Toernooi in late May, which witnessed the Young Socceroos finish third, beating Liverpool to bronze after losing to eventual champions Ajax in the semi-finals. "It was a great result to finish third," said Versleijen. "It was a good test and we found that we can compete with these teams to a certain level, especially in terms of defence and organisation."
The competition also represented a personal triumph for attacking midfielder Aaron Mooy, whose outstanding performances earned him the player of the tournament award and pushed the Bolton Wanderers youngster further up the Aussie pecking order. It merely added to an encouraging start to Australia's Dutch adventure, and even better was to follow in the subsequent International Cor Groenewegen Tournament.
After beating Ajax and Celtic en route to the final, Versleijen's side claimed the title in dramatic fashion, scoring twice in the final two minutes to seal a 2-1 win over Utrecht. "The Australian spirit really came through," reflected their proud coach. "The players refused to give in and were rewarded with an amazing victory. The tour has been very worthwhile and we have progressed as a group. But to be competitive at the World Cup will be a much bigger, tougher challenge and that is what we need to work towards."
The equaliser that turned the match in the tourists' favour came from the right boot of Holland, and the Aussie captain told FIFA.com of his belief that the Dutch experience had left the team in good shape for Egypt 2009. Asked for his views on the team's progress, he replied: "Fantastic. The tour was positive, so things are shaping up pretty well. We have a typical Aussie spirit, we work well together, but we also have some individual spark."
Australia will certainly need all of their character and flair to escape from an imposing section at Egypt 2009 that will see them pitted against Brazil, Costa Rica and Czech Republic. "It's a tough group," Holland admitted. "It's probably a similar situation to the Aussies at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, so we will draw some inspiration from that."
The Young Socceroos reached the semi-finals of the 1991 and 1993 FIFA U-20 World Cups but have failed to make an impression at recent editions and did not even qualify for Canada 2007. However, with the class of 2009 boasting several players with significant experience of senior football, hopes are high of a memorable campaign. And Holland believes that the knowhow of their Dutch coach will be just as important to their cause.
He said: "Jan is a good coach, and a good person, he handles the players well and seeks our input, which I like. Everyone has learnt a lot from him and it has made for a positive camp. We are quietly confident we can achieve something at the World Cup."