The final or bust. The Oranje have set lofty aims for their campaign in South Africa, 32 years after their 3-1 extra-time defeat by Argentina in the showpiece game, which itself came four years on from their 2-1 final loss to West Germany. Since the retirement of pioneering coach Rinus Michels, a multitude of players have followed in the footsteps of the Johan Cruyff generation without ever advancing as far as the final hurdle, though one particularly talented crop did claim the European title in 1988. Often seen as spectacular but mentally fragile, the Netherlands hope to banish that image under Bert van Marwijk, who took over in the wake of their disappointing UEFA EURO 2008 campaign.
He and his charges at least have history on their side this time around. The last team to reach a FIFA World Cup™ finals without dropping a single point in qualifying - West Germany in 1982 - went on to contest the final. The current Oranje vintage have made no efforts to conceal their ambitions and, once again, look on paper to have all the ingredients necessary to go far.
The road to South Africa
It was a full house for the Netherlands as they picked up eight wins from eight games. The Van Marwijk era has proved to be a faultless one so far, with the former Feyenoord coach leading his troops to the top of Group 9, where Norway and Scotland came equipped as their major rivals. As it happened, the Dutch let in the only two goals they conceded all campaign against Iceland and FYR Macedonia, while hitting two of their 17 efforts to secure slender but controlled 1-0 victories in Glasgow and Oslo.
Not the most heralded player in his time, having collected a solitary international cap, Mark van Bommel's father-in-law has known far more success in the dugout. He shone especially brightly at Feyenoord, leading the Rotterdam outfit to the UEFA Cup trophy in 2002 before taking the Dutch crown upon his return after a two-year stint with Borussia Dortmund in Germany. Calm, affable, discrete but approachable, the 56-year-old believes it is important to be close to his players, saying: "An international coach has few opportunities to work with his squad. Because of that, I want to make the most of the time I spend with my players, mix with them, take part in training, and add and vary exercises to get to know them better." Although his style marks a real break with that of his predecessor, Marco van Basten, the tactics remain similar. "Marco put a 4-2-3-1 formation in place," he says. "The players got used to that and I intend to keep it." Flanked by former stalwarts Phillip Cocu and Frank de Boer in the assistant coaching roles, Van Marwijk's record is impeccable thus far.
The star players
With Edwin van der Saar and Ruud van Nistelrooy having called time on their international careers, Van Marwijk has needed to apply his own touch to the core of players he inherited from Van Basten, without shaking things up too vigorously. The key men now are Arjen Robben, Joris Mathijsen, Andre Ooijer, Dirk Kuyt, Mark van Bommel, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Giovanni van Bronckhorst, all of whom enjoyed considerable playing time under the previous trainer. Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie, Nigel De Jong and Wesley Sneijder also remain closely involved.
Previous FIFA World Cups
In their eight finals appearances, the Oranje have reached the showpiece match twice, falling narrowly short of the global crown in 1974 and 1978. They also came in fourth at France 1998.
- 1 UEFA European Championship (1988)
What they said
"We have a mission: that mission is to be champions of the world," Frank de Boer, assistant coach.