2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

14 June - 15 July

Dazzling Dutch on a mission

© Getty Images

If the Netherlands have underperformed at recent major tournaments, it has not been due to a shortage of talent. Rather, as those involved will testify, the Dutch have tended to lack the consistency and dogged determination that generally separates champions from also-rans at these intensely competitive international events.

As captain Giovanni van Bronkhorst admitted: "When you have a big tournament with all the best teams, you have to be on top form in every single match if you're going to win. We saw that at EURO 2008, when we played really well but had one bad game against the Russians and were knocked out. That's got to be a lesson for us in South Africa."

Fortunately, the signs auger that we will see a different kind of Oranje at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The majestic manner in which they qualified hinted at a new, untypically Dutch mentality, with the inconsistency bemoaned by Van Bronkhorst replaced by a ruthless streak that yielded eight straight wins. If it's omens you're after, the only other team to have survived the European preliminaries without dropping a point - West Germany in Spain 1982 - went on to reach the Final.

Yet even that might not be enough to satisfy this Netherlands side. Bert van Marwijk, the coach responsible for the team's new tough, resolute mindset, has also made no secret of his ultimate goal, telling FIFA.com earlier this year: "If I had the slightest idea that we could not win the World Cup, I would just stay at home."

We have a mission - and that mission is to be world champions. Why not? We have the quality to beat anybody.

This attitude has proved contagious. Frank de Boer, Van Marwijk's assistant and a veteran of 112 internationals, is perhaps best placed to judge the transformation that has taken place, and he believes that this current Dutch side have every right to target a trophy that has proved notoriously elusive.

"We have a mission - and that mission is to be world champions," he said. "Why not? We have the quality to beat anybody. Of course, we are also respectful of the fact that many other teams have the same mission and will have the same confidence we do. Brazil look tremendous just now, Spain too, England are very strong and there are some nations that you know you can never count out at the big tournaments. But we are going to South Africa to win, that's for sure."

De Boer's confidence is based largely on the evidence of a qualifying campaign that, as well as witnessing the usual flair and fluidity one might expect, also saw clean sheets kept in all but two of the Netherlands' matches. Vital to this impressive defensive effort was the ever-present Andre Ooijer, a former team-mate of De Boer's who also shared with FIFA.com his belief in this new, results-focused Oranje.

"Winning becomes a habit," said the 35-year-old. "You see that with the best teams all over the world, and going into games expecting to win is a big factor for us. It's been brilliant. None of our qualifiers were easy, there was no really weak team in our group, so it's very satisfying to have done enough to win every single game. I think we can go on to the World Cup full of confidence because of what we have achieved."

De Boer, whose own glittering playing career brought him UEFA Champions League glory but only FIFA World Cup frustration, admits that the Netherlands' consistency under Van Marwijk has surpassed even his expectations. His hope now is that this new generation of Dutch players can succeed where there was only failure for legends such as Cruyff and Bergkamp.

If we had not been unlucky on penalties, who knows what might have happened? Hopefully we can have a bit more luck this time and take the trophy.

"I would never have expected them to win every match," he admitted. "But we knew how we wanted the team to play and, fortunately, the players managed to put that plan into action. It's all been going extremely well and we're very proud of what the boys have achieved. If they keep the same form and attitude, they can beat anybody. We have a good squad and, if you look at our bench, it's vert encouraging. But you can always improve and that's what we'll be trying to do before 2010."

The strength in depth referred to by De Boer was underlined in the Netherlands' final preliminary win in Scotland, when a trio of star substitutes, Rafael van der Vaart, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and the team's latest sensation, Eljero Elia, turned the match in their favour. Qualification had long since been secured, of course, and yet Ooijer explained that making it eight wins from eight served a greater purpose than merely maintaining momentum and creating a little bit of history.

"It was important in a few respects, not only psychologically but also in terms of our FIFA ranking and perhaps the way we are seeded for the draw in South Africa," he said. "As for whether there is more to come from us, we will see that at the World Cup. That is where the big test will come for all of the teams who want to win that tournament. But we have set a standard by the way we have played in qualifying."

For Ooijer and De Boer alike, there is also the added incentive of bettering the Netherlands' finest FIFA World Cup campaign in recent memory. Both were members of the squad that came within penalty kicks of reaching the 1998 Final and, according to Ooijer, the bittersweet memories of that French summer still evoke thoughts of what might have been.

"For me, that was my best World Cup memory; to get into the semi-finals of that tournament against Brazil was fantastic. If we had not been unlucky on penalties, who knows what might have happened? Hopefully we can have a bit more luck this time and take the trophy. If we play to our maximum, I think that's possible."

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