Netherlands fans were out in force in the streets of Reykjavik and Amsterdam on Saturday evening as they celebrated their side's early qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. A 2-1 win in the Icelandic capital was all the Dutch needed to become the first European team to clinch their ticket to the finals, triggering a typically boisterous Oranje party in both countries.
As a record of six wins in six games suggests, Bert van Marwijk's charges have the ability to achieve great things in the months to come and atone for the harrowing defeats the Dutch suffered in the 1974 and 1978 Finals. "If we do succeed in reaching the finals, in my opinion you have to aim high and go for the utmost," the Netherlands coach told FIFA.com recently, and with his side having successfully negotiated the first hurdle in double quick time, they can steal a march on their fellow European qualifiers by making an early start to their finals preparations.
Up there with the best
Currently second in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the Netherlands would certainly seem to have all the attributes required to win their first world crown. The desire for success is there, particularly among the key quartet of Rafael van der Vaart, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who, having endured a trophyless season with Real Madrid, made up for their struggles in Spain with some excellent performances for the national side. Thanks to their drive and determination, the Dutch have cantered to the finals, booking their place well before any of their European rivals and seemingly intent on making a big impression in South Africa next year.
Van Marwijk is also fortunate in that he can call on the experience of the likes of Mark van Bommel and Giovanni van Bronckhorst, two key cogs in a well-oiled machine. "I'd say we're currently among the best teams in the world," the skipper told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview back in April. And it is a view that is hard to argue against, especially given the fact that Van Bronckhorst and Co have now gone 20 games unbeaten in FIFA World Cup qualifying matches, their last defeat coming on 1 September 2001 when they went down 1-0 to the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.
Joy and relief for Rafael
"We are very relieved," commented Van der Vaart after the final whistle had blown in Reykjavik. "It's a great day for us. Right from the start we felt that we could win here. It's a shame we didn't kill the game off before half-time but it doesn't really matter. We've reached the World Cup finals and that's the most important thing."
Before departing for home, Van Marwijk gave his views on his side's achievement. "Our aim was to secure our ticket for the World Cup as quickly as possible. We've done that and we've become a real team and made genuine progress in the last few months. Those are two factors that are absolutely vital if you're going to succeed at the highest level." The message is clear, then; the Netherlands are sure to be a force to be reckoned with when the world elite convenes in South Africa next year.