The Netherlands open their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ campaign against Denmark on Monday determined to brush off their tag of group phase heroes, knockout stage zeros.
The Oranje have never won the FIFA World Cup, but reached the finals of both the 1974 and 1978 tournaments playing their brand of flowing football. Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk has an embarrassment of riches in his squad for the Group E clash at Soccer City with the likes of Arsenal's Robin van Persie, Real Madrid's Rafael van der Vaart and Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder.
The challenge for this Dutch side is to secure a comfortable win over Denmark, breeze through the group stages, but then carry that early form into the knockout stages. In the group stages of UEFA EURO 2008, the Dutch saw off both 2006 FIFA World Cup finalists Italy and France in style, only to fall to a shock defeat to Russia in the quarter-finals.
But they are determined not to repeat such mistakes in South Africa. "Normally we play good football, but don't get very far," said midfielder Mark van Bommel. "This time I think we can play good football and be successful."
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."
The Dutch are almost sure to be without Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben, who has a thigh strain, but will still have an impressive strike force led by Arsenal's Van Persie. "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 Van Persie.
Little has been said at this FIFA World Cup about Denmark, but they command respect for winning their qualifying group ahead of Portugal, having beaten the hosts 3-2 in Lisbon back in September 2008. But their form coming into this tournament has been far from impressive with warm-up defeats to both Australia and South Africa in recent weeks, while in contrast Holland beat Ghana, Hungary and the United States with ease.
Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner looks to be fit to face the Danish having been out of action since May after suffering a groin injury. With Coach Morten Olsen, the Danes finished two points clear of Portugal in qualifying and will rely heavily on the likes of Thomas Sorensen, Lars Jacobsen and Bendtner, who will fly the Premier League flag.
Stoke City's goalkeeper Sorensen is likely to have a busy time containing the Oranje's attack while just in front of him Blackburn Rovers defender Lars Jacobsen will be marshalling the defence.