With just days to go before kicking off their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ campaign, the Netherlands are clearly fired up for their first Group E match against Denmark in Johannesburg on 14 June. "We're physically and mentally ready and I wish we could start right now," said Oranje forward Robin van Persie in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
A superb qualifying campaign in which the Netherlands won all eight games, becoming the first team to book their place for the finals in South Africa, has set the stage, he hopes, for a successful tournament. "We should reach the semi-finals at least. That's a must for us, especially when you look at the 23 players and the clubs they play for," said the Arsenal striker.
Team-mate Mark van Bommel admits that he and the rest of the squad are driven by "a lofty goal". But the experienced central midfielder warned against complacency after three victories in three warm-up friendlies, saying: "This doesn't mean we will play at the same level during the tournament and win all our games."
Team spirit and togetherness
The Netherlands were runners-up at the 1974 and 1978 finals but, with the exception of a fourth-placed finish at France 1998, they have since failed to meet the high expectations of the Dutch fans. The Oranje were eliminated in the quarter-finals in 1994, the Round of 16 in 1990 and 2006, and even failed to qualify in 2002.
This time, things should be different. Unlike in previous years, when splits in the camp and internal wranglings had a negative effect on performances, a magnificent team spirit and togetherness currently runs right through the squad. "We have a really good group of players who all have the same objective. You have to accept and respect each other, and that's what we do," Van Bommel told FIFA.com.
"Normally we play good football but don't get very far. This time I think we can play good football and be successful," said Van Bommel, confident the Elftal will do well in South Africa. His optimism stems in part from the fact that many of the Dutch squad are with top clubs in major European leagues. "The lads want to win all the time. That, coupled with the Dutch philosophy of good football, is a winning combination."
Architect Van Marwijk
Van Persie also considers this one of the team's great strengths. "As a footballer you can only develop by playing for the leading clubs. I think we can achieve a lot with the players we have." Van Bommel added: "We have players who are playing at the top level. The squad is full of quality. If we play as a team, we can go all the way."
The architect of this tight-knit unit is Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk, who took over from Marco van Basten after UEFA EURO 2008. "He is very meticulous and obsessed with details," said Van Persie in praise of the 58-year-old, who was his coach in his early years at Feyenoord. As Van Marwijk's son-in-law, Van Bommel knows the Dutch supremo even better. "He approaches every game in the same way and his training sessions are very player-focused. That's typical of him."
Van Marwijk is spoilt for choice as far as his starting line-up against Denmark is concerned. Arjen Robben looks likely to be the only absentee after pulling a hamstring, though the 26-year-old will link up with the squad in Johannesburg at the weekend. "He's a fantastic player whose style of play makes him a constant threat. He has great technical ability, he can dribble and finish, he's quick and I hope he's back very soon," said Van Persie.
Yet even without the Bayern Munich wide man, Van Marwijk still has considerable firepower at his disposal for the opener against the Danes. Fellow contenders be warned: the Oranje are ready to shine in South Africa.