Since the 1970s, the Netherlands have forged a reputation for fielding strong teams made up of talented individuals. Yet though the *Oranje *are invariably among the favourites at every tournament, to date their only major success came at the 1988 UEFA European Championship in Germany.
That said, the Dutch made it through to the 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cup™ deciders, and the team currently led by Bert van Marwijk will bid to go one step further this summer. One player who will have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders down in South Africa is Wesley Sneijder.
The Inter Milan playmaker began his professional career at Ajax, and then had a spell with Real Madrid before joining the UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists in the summer of 2009. Shortly before the first leg against CSKA Moscow, Sneijder spoke to FIFA.com about Inter's current form, coach Jose Mourinho and his lofty ambitions on both the domestic and international fronts.
FIFA.com: Wesley, you've been inMilanfor a few months now. How are you enjoying life inItaly's fashion capital?Wesley Sneijder:It really is a lovely place, and I very much enjoy living here. I like the variety of restaurants and shops and quite apart from that, the people in Milan are very friendly.
Inter Milan team are currently top of Serie A. Who or what could possibly stop you and your team-mates from winning the title?To be perfectly honest, I think that only suspensions and injuries could get in our way now. Otherwise, nothing is going to stop us from winning that Scudetto.
Working with Jose Mourinho really is something special. He loves his players and he is very professional.
You club is top of the pile inItaly, but where do Inter stand when it comes to European football?Our team, in fact the whole squad, are definitely among the top six clubs in Europe. I have absolutely no doubt about that.
How satisfied are you with your own performances so far this season?I'm feeling very fit and in good form at the moment. I think that I've managed to settle in Milan and managed to get on a wavelength with the team pretty quickly. But obviously there is always room for improvement.
Can you tell us what makes coach Mourinho so special?Working with Jose Mourinho really is something special. He loves his players and he is very professional. What really sets him apart is how intensively and meticulously he works with each player, and the value he puts on every tiny little detail.
You made your professional debut withAjaxwhen you were only 19. What does the club mean to you nowadays?Personally, Ajax was a great footballing academy for me. They believed in me right from the beginning and gave me the chance to become a professional footballer.
You then moved to RealMadridin 2007. Looking back, how do you assess your time in the Spanish capital?For me it was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. I had a great first year in Spain, but in my second season I struggled with a few injuries and didn't get the playing time that I would have wanted.
Let's talk about the Dutch national team. What does it mean to you to have been a regular member of the squad for a number of years now?I'm always very happy when I get to play for the Netherlands – it's a real honour to play for my country. And I also really enjoy meeting up with other international players every time as otherwise we don't get to see that much of one another.
What do you see as your role in coach Bert van Marwijk's team?I enjoy playing in the hole behind the strikers, but the most important thing is that we all work together to make sure that the team is a success.
The Netherlands sailed through the qualifiers for South Africa 2010 and are now among the favourites for the Trophy. Why is it that you have not won a title since the European Championship in 1988?It's really hard to find a reason behind it. I am sure that we would have won another title if we knew the answer to that question.
Spain, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina and England. We've all got the same aim in the (Netherlands) sqaud though: We want to win the World Cup.
You are odds-on to be selected for what will be your fourth major tournament. What are you hoping for personally and from the team in South Africa?I think that we'll get through the group stage and then we'll have to take it one match at a time, and hope that we get the slice of luck that you need in a tournament like that. I personally hope that I will be a key player within the team. We've all got the same aim in the squad though: we want to win the World Cup.
Speaking of the group stage, you will be facingDenmark,JapanandCameroon. How do you rate your opponents?It really is a very tough group. All these teams have different playing styles, but the advantage that we have is that we know them all very well.
You say you want to win the FIFA World Cup, but who are your main rivals for the Trophy?All the big names of world football will be in with a shout. On my list, I'd have European champions Spain, Brazil, Germany, the holders Italy, Argentina and England as well.
One last question, Wesley. What are you expecting from South Africa 2010 in general?I'm looking forward to going to a great country and playing in some wonderful stadiums. And I hope that we will have plenty of supporters coming with us from back home.