The country that gave us the delightfully free-flowing concept of Total Football, and reached two FIFA World Cup™ Finals employing it in the 1970s, are towing a line far more practical these days in South Africa. "We're thrilled to have maximum points from two games," Dirk Kuyt, the Netherlands forward, told FIFA.com after their 1-0 win over Japan in Durban on Saturday.
That victory took the Oranje to the top of Group H, but was short on the kind of style and elegance historically associated with the 1988 European champions, producers of such showy icons as Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten. "It would be great to score bags of goals and play flowing football all the time, but if you gave me the choice between points and style, I would take the points every day," continued Kuyt, the Liverpool striker whose work rate has no equal at these finals.
Sacrificing panache and "sexy football" – a term Gullit himself famously coined – the Dutch have yet to concede a goal in South Africa and are playing a disciplined brand of football almost incongruous with their trademark orange jerseys. "Patience, not flair, I think this is the main strength of this team," said young forward Eljero Elia, who came off the bench against Japan. After a match that produced only two shots on goal in the first half, and was settled by a single goal from Wesley Sneijder, Elja’s theory certainly seems on the mark.
"I don't think we played badly in either of our games," veteran captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst added to FIFA.com. "Of course we can play better and with better rhythm, but even though we're not playing our best right now, we're still winning games. This is the sign of a strong team, with strong character." Nigel de Jong – the side's eager and imposing midfield enforcer – echoed the general consensus, saying: "Football is about winning, getting points, it doesn't matter how you get them."
The Netherlands opened their campaign with a 2-0 win over Denmark, a game in which both their goals were fortuitous. The evidence of their follow-up meeting with Japan is that Bert van Marwijk's men are serious about doing whatever they need to do to get it right after so often being the nearly men of world football.
"Two games, six points, this is what you want," said Kuyt outside the team's changing room at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, where a boisterous orange-clad brass band continued to play in the stands a full hour after the final whistle. "We controlled the game and waited patiently for our chances to come. This is the World Cup and every opponent is tough. Control and patience are the keys for us," concluded Kuyt, happy to have the carnival out in the stands and not on the pitch.