Played three, won three. That is the enviable, unblemished record that has left the Netherlands five points clear at the summit of their FIFA World Cup™ preliminary section and firmly on track for South Africa 2010.
This set of results also stands as the ultimate tribute to the slick and seamless transition that Oranje coach Bert van Marwick has overseen since succeeding Marco van Basten in June. Respected for his thoughtful, measured approach to management, the man formerly at the reins of Feyenoord and Borussia Dortmund has successfully blended skill and solidity on the field while also healing the rifts that blighted his predecessor's reign.
It is now over three decades since injury robbed Van Marwijk of the chance to play at Argentina 1978, but as the 56-year-old told FIFA.com, merely taking part is no longer enough. His aim is to take the Netherlands to South Africa - and bring home football's holy grail.
FIFA.com: Bert, with three games played in Group 9, you have a 100 per cent record and are five points clear of your nearest challengers. Has this been as close to a perfect start as you could have imagined?
Bert van Marwijk: Of course. You always hope to win your first match but I never considered that we would start with three successive wins. You can't conclude anything else but that we have enjoyed a very successful start to the preliminary competition.
With many observers saying that you are already as good as qualified, is there a need to guard against complacency?
The biggest disadvantage of starting with three wins is obviously that everybody thinks qualification is already sealed, not realising that we still have to play five qualifiers. Although we won in Oslo last October, Norway proved with the 1-0 friendly win against Germany recently that they cannot be written off. Both Iceland and Macedonia have also shown in the past that they are always dangerous outsiders who can record good results in matches against top-ranked countries. And Scotland showed in the recent EURO 2008 qualifying campaign that they are among the favourites for this group. So we have to be prepared for the worst. I don't deny that we had a great start, but with five matches ahead we still have a long way to go.
Your next opponents, Scotland, have made a slightly disappointing start to qualifying, but do you still consider them a major threat?
We certainly won't underestimate them. In the EURO 2008 qualifiers, they beat France twice. With France and Italy in the same group they did a great job, even though they ultimately didn't make it to the finals. Our players and staff won't take this match lightly. If Scotland win in Amsterdam, we will stay on top of Group 9, but they will narrow the gap and increase their play-off chances at the same time.
Edwin van der Sar came out of international retirement to help ease an injury crisis in your last two matches. Is that the kind of team-centred spirit you hope can be an inspiration to the whole side?
The national team is something that, metaphorically speaking, is owned by everybody. Edwin gave an outstanding example by showing his dedication when the team really needed him. In my opinion that's true love for and devotion to your country. Everybody involved with the national team, from the fans to the players and staff, should actually always have and show the same loyalty. Edwin showed that he is not only an outstanding goalie, but also a great personality.
Did you have any hesitation in leaving Feyenoord to accept the job of national coach?
I certainly hesitated to leave Feyenoord. That stemmed from my deep feelings for and ties with the club. At the time, I was only in the first season of a two-year contract and didn't have any intention of leaving the club. However, the chance to become coach of the national team and work with the best players in the country is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it was one I couldn't resist.
How straightforward has the transition been from club to national coach?
I knew beforehand that there would be a world of difference. The biggest change is that you are not working with the players on a daily basis. Also, as a club coach, there is pressure on you and commitments with the media and so on every week, whereas as a national coach you only have a game every six-to-eight weeks. However, the intensity of all the aspects around a national game, including the media attention and pressure, is about ten times greater. For me, it was a matter of undergoing that first and getting used to this new rhythm. Another difference, which I enjoy very much, is that I now watch many more football matches. I would advise every coach, should they have the chance to take a sabbatical at some stage during their career, to attend as many games as possible. My experience so far is that you pick up a lot of valuable know-how from various clubs, teams and coaches. So far at least, I can tell you that I really enjoy this job and that I haven't missed being a club coach yet.
You were quick to appoint two distinguished former internationals, Frank de Boer and Phillip Cocu, to your coaching staff. How beneficial has it been to have them at your side?
From the very first moment I was in contact with the KNVB [Royal Netherlands Football Association], I emphasised the importance of appointing Frank and Phillip as my assistants. Their experience as players is invaluable to us. Together, they played over 220 matches for the national team and took part in several European Championships and World Cups. Besides, I believe that they are still very close to the current generation of players. And what's more, Cocu was a midfielder, De Boer a defender and I myself was a forward, so each of us brings specific knowledge from our playing careers.
Given that you never made it to a FIFA World Cup as a player, how much would it mean to lead your country to one as coach?
For me this is a separate thing; my playing career has to be disassociated from my career as a coach. However, I'm working for the Dutch team in a pre-World Cup period, so this is obviously the main focus. If we do succeed in reaching the finals, in my opinion you have to aim high and go for the utmost.
What are your main memories of watching the FIFA World Cup as a supporter?
For me and probably an entire Dutch generation, the 1974 final is the most remarkable World Cup memory. Holland were better than Germany but unfortunately we got less than we deserved. That was our ultimate chance to win the world title. Another special World Cup for me personally was the 1978 edition. I was part of the squad until the very last moment. However, I was bothered by a back injury and, regrettably, I didn't recover in time. The fact that I was more or less meant to be part of the team made me watch the matches in '78 from a different perspective.
What do you expect from the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the first in Africa? Do you envisage that European teams will find it more difficult than normal?
I expect extra resistance from the African teams. The growing role of African countries in World Cups has been a definite trend over recent years and the fact that the 2010 edition will be played on home soil, in a climate and under circumstances they are used to, will certainly increase their chances. On the other hand, it will provide a challenge for the other countries to rise to.
Do you feel the Netherlands can win the tournament?
If I had the slightest idea that we could not win the World Cup, I would just stay at home.