Nigel de Jong sweated his way through the hardest game of his career last night - and he was not even playing.

De Jong was a helpless spectator in Cape Town, having been ruled out of the Netherlands' 2010 FIFA World Cup™ semi-final with Uruguay through suspension. Thankfully for the Manchester City star, the Dutch emerged triumphant thanks to second-half goals from Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, and he can now look forward to the game of his life at Soccer City on Sunday.

But the chances are, no matter how the contest works out, De Jong will not expend as much energy as he did last night. "That was the hardest game I have ever been involved in," said De Jong. "I am more tired than all the other guys in the dressing room put together.

That was the hardest game I have ever been involved in. I am more tired than all the other guys in the dressing room put together.

Netherlands midfielder Nigel de Jong

"I was so nervous. I was missing the semi-final of the World Cup because I had picked up two yellow cards. It just made it a very stressful night. But the guys did a terrific job. They made it possible for me to play in a World Cup Final."

The Netherlands have never won the FIFA World Cup, losing both their previous final appearances - in 1974 and 1978. Indeed, last night represented their ninth major tournament semi-final and so far their reward stands at one single triumph, at the UEFA European Championship in 1988.

It has often been suggested Holland are the best team never to have won the most prestigious tournament the game has to offer. That assessment is one De Jong agrees with. "That is right, but it is not a problem," he said. "The energy we get from it is positive, not negative.

"Those teams in the past put Holland on the map. But that was 32 years ago. This is a new generation. We cannot go into the game with any memories of the past. This is our squad and our time. With all due respect, they had theirs."

It is debatable whether any of the current Dutch generation compare with Johan Cruyff, legendary leader of the 'Total Football' team that were denied glory by West Germany 36 years ago. Yet in Sneijder they have a midfield schemer who will surely be crowned world footballer of the year should Holland be crowned champions on Sunday night, given he has also won the treble with Inter Milan, including that famous UEFA Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich.

Little wonder Manchester United, among many others, are casting admiring glances in Sneijder's direction, although Sir Alex Ferguson knows the asking price has continued to rise with each of the five goals the midfielder has scored in this competition.

Although there have been more talented Dutch squads in the past three decades, the difference this time appears to be the harmony achieved by coach Bert van Marwijk, something to which De Jong can testify. "We have a good spirit," he said. "We always play the best football we can and we are together as one.

"You can see that in the way we perform. Even yesterday we had some difficult times but we stick together, and we always have the quality to score goals."