A no-nonsense character renowned for his combination of discipline and fatherly good will, the well-respected former SC Heerenveen boss has taken what one year ago was a loose affiliation of disparate characters and clashing personalities and moulded them into the toast of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005. 

"We have our training early in the day, and late now, because of the heat. The players grouse about it, but I just tell them to shut up," The longest-serving coach in Dutch professional football told FIFA.com two days before the crucial round of sixteen clash with Chile. "It's pointless to complain about the weather, you have to be hard on yourself and just do what you have to do. Mind you, training in this heat is tough on me too."

The coach's rough-edged sensibility has had a massive impact on the team in the short space of one year, according to elegant young Ajax midfielder and team captain Hedwiges Maduro. 

"About a year ago when we were in training camp in Spain, our coach at the time, Ruud Gullit, was very critical of our attitude," the player admitted somewhat shamefacedly. "I think we've come a long way though. We've changed as a team and matured."

Much of the new maturity Maduro mentions comes directly from the firm hand of De Haan.  Also, the fact that a good number of the U-20 team are now regular starters for their clubs has not hurt. 

Steely fullback Ron Vlaar is one. After a few conspicuously competent starts with Cinderella club side and UEFA Cup semi-finalists AZ Alkmaar, he was called into Marco Van Basten's senior Oranje for the FIFA World Cup qualifier against Finland alongside Maduro and Ajax striker Ryan Babel just two days before the Youth Championship kicked off.

"We're satisfied with how we are playing now," Vlaar remarked. "As a team, I thought we played our best game against Japan. We didn't give our best against Australia, but then that wasn't necessary, this was a fairly easy game for us. The game against Benin wasn't very good either, because we basically had nothing to play for, especially after we were 1-0 up."

Opinions aside, there is no debate about Holland's perfect record of three wins from three matches in Group A.

A Chile evening
De Haan refuses to take the South American third-place finishers from Group C lightly, though.  Earning their three points from a trouncing of poor Honduras before being belted for seven by Spain and beaten by Morocco, the Dutch coach still has his concerns. 

"They (Chile) are most impressive on the counter-attack and we will need to take care to stay organised," he said. "Maduro is going to be the key player for us."

The blushing captain, still only 20, is thrown by the attention he is receiving since his twenty-minute outing for the seniors against Finland and his genius bits of play at Netherlands 2005.

"Just a few months ago I was nothing but a substitute at Ajax, so it's surreal when people start comparing me to Rijkaard, Socrates or Beckenbauer," the smiling player told reporters. 

Foppe, though rough around the edges, has full faith in his charges.  When talk turns to Chile's young danger man, Matias Fernandez, he made it clear there will be no special arrangements. "We're not going to change our style to deal with him, that would be stupid," he said. "Maduro and (Rick) Kruys will handle him when he's in their zone. If he plays deep, Vlaar will take over…no problem."

Never one to get carried away, De Haan is keeping everything in perspective ahead of the all-important knockout round.

"Frankly, we never expected to have 9 points after 3 games. We've had it easy so far. The team is in good shape. The small things, player-to-player communication about what they want to do, where they want the ball, in this area there is room for improvement. In terms of the basic organisation of the team, we're pretty much where we want to be."

With decades of coaching experience to draw upon, De Haan is keen to take things one step at a time ahead of the Chile contest. "We have one game coming up against Chile. Then if we win, another against the next opponent."