Bert van Marwijk was quick to pass his verdict on what he judged a “difficult” road to Brazil 2014 for his Netherlands side. “Our top opponents are Turkey,” he told “But our principal opponent will be ourselves.”

Hoping to trouble the leading duo will be Hungary and Romania, though both will have to perform superbly if they are to reach the global showcase. As for Estonia and Andorra, the emphasis will be on making further progress and taking advantage of some high-profile home games.

The favourites
Runners-up at the last FIFA World Cup™ and boasting a perfect record so far in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying, the Netherlands have found an impressive winning momentum since Van Marwijk took over following EURO 2008. Marco van Basten’s successor has helped the side recover from losing the South Africa 2010 showpiece to Spain and has largely continued with the same squad. “Our motivation must come from what we need to learn about narrowly missing out on the world title,” he told His players have understood that message perfectly and have no intention of spurning the chance to exact revenge at Brazil 2014.

Semi-finalists at Korea/Japan 2002, Turkey have struggled since then but now boast a gifted and, above all, ambitious generation driven forward by the Altintop twins. They will also be determined to bounce back from defeat to Croatia in the UEFA EURO 2012 play-offs, a loss that cost Guus Hiddink his job and the chance of a showdown against his home nation.

The outsiders
Hungary: Optimism abounds in the Hungary ranks and not least for Balazs Dzsudzsak, now a senior figure in a young line-up coming to the end of a transitional phase. “When everyone is 100 per cent fit, we’ve proved we can play good football,” he told a few months after Hungary stretched the Netherlands in an encouraging 5-3 loss. The ex-PSV Eindhoven winger’s partnership with Adam Szalai gives the team an attacking focus they can build on and overall their goal is clear. As Dzsudzsak explained: “our main target is the 2014 World Cup.”

Romania: Still focused on rebuilding, Romania remain desperate to rediscover their old swagger and locate a generation of players to match the crop led by Gheorghe Hagi, who reached the quarter-finals at USA 1994. Appointed in June this year after Razvan Lucescu stepped down, Victor Piturca is the man charged with leading them forward, but his charges have yet to properly digest their disappointing South Africa 2010 qualifying bid. “It’s a difficult period for Romania and I’m taking risks,” he said after taking over the reins for the third time. Piturca’s sights are set more on EURO 2016, but, with the pressure off, his team could well spring a few surprises.

Players to watch
Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vart, Dirk Kuyt, Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Ruud van Nistelrooij, Gregory van der Wiel (NED); Semih Senturk, Hamit and Halil Altintop, Servet Cetin (TUR); Adrian Mutu, Ciprian Marica, Ravzan Rat (ROU); Adam Szalai, Balazs Dzsudzsak, Roland Juhasz, Zsolt Laczko (HUN).

The crunch match
After winning nine of their 13 qualifiers away from home ahead of Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006, Turkey missed out on a trip to South Africa due to unconvincing form on their travels. Unless they pull off a memorable result on Dutch soil, they could easily find themselves consigned to second spot and facing a play-off to advance.

A look back
Netherlands 0-3 Hungary, 30 April 1961, Rotterdam
Hungary were still one of world football’s leading lights. The ‘Golden Team’ had passed into legend by then, but a new side powered by Florian Albert kept them in the top tier of the global game – as they proved on a sensational night in Rotterdam. Untouchable in a legendary first-half display, Hungary gave their helpless hosts a veritable education, inflicting a 3-0 defeat that remains the Oranje’s heaviest loss on home turf in FIFA World Cup qualifying.

The stat
241 – The number of goals scored by the Netherlands in FIFA World Cup preliminary games. No team has registered more in the European Zone.

Did you know?
The Netherlands are one of three sides to have failed to qualify for a FIFA World Cup after finishing runners-up at the previous edition. Finalists at Argentina 1978, they missed out on the festivities at Spain 1982.

Have your say
Can the Netherlands match their performance on the road to South Africa 2010, when they did not drop a single point?