The slogan on the side of the Dutch team bus - 'Don’t fear the Big Five; fear the Oranje 11' - is a reflection of the self-confidence of a Netherlands squad aiming to go one better than their illustrious predecessors: FIFA World Cup™ runners-up in 1974 and 1978. With 19 consecutive games without defeat under their belt, a successful warm-up campaign and a satisfied coach, the team could hardly be better prepared to take on Denmark tomorrow in their first Group E match at South Africa 2010.
“We want to be world champions,” said captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst on Sunday, before the team’s final training session in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium. The much-travelled 35-year-old will play his 100th international match against the Danes and hopes to add a further six appearances before retiring at the end of the tournament. “It’s time that we finally brought a trophy home,” he said, with one eye on 11 July’s title decider.
“We take all of our opponents seriously and we’ll certainly not underestimate the Danes,” said national coach Bert van Marwijk, who is fully aware of the pivotal nature of his side’s opener. “The first match is always the most important.”
Nevertheless, the experienced strategist must do without arguably his most potent attacking weapon in Arjen Robben, who is still recuperating from a hamstring injury. “We will not take any chances and let Arjen complete his recovery,” Van Marwijk said. “We’ll need him later on in the tournament.”
Even without Robben, Van Marwijk has plenty of attacking talent to call upon, with Real Madrid’s Rafael van der Vaart set to replace the Bayern Munich winger. Also expected to start are players of the calibre of Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt. “We have a few players who are capable of making the difference,” added Van Bronckhorst.
Looking ahead to the remaining group games against Japan and Cameroon, team-mate Mark van Bommel insisted his side must focus on the task in hand and avoid any complacency if they wish to go all the way. “We’ve been drawn in a tough group,” said the Bayern man. “Everyone’s talking about Argentina, Brazil and Spain (for the title), and that’s the way I like it.”