On-song Oranje on top of the world
© AFP

For the first time in their history, the Netherlands have moved to the top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, capping a resurgence that began back in the summer of 2008. In doing so the Dutch have knocked reigning FIFA World Cup™ champions Spain off their perch, gaining a slight measure of revenge for the 1-0 defeat they suffered at the hands of La Roja in the South Africa 2010 Final.

In virtually unbeatable form themselves since lifting the European title three years ago, the Spanish relinquished their position at the head of the global ladder after losing to Italy in a friendly last month.

The Netherlands are only the seventh team in history to lead the Ranking, which was established in December 1992, after Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, France and Italy, and their rise to the summit has been the reward for the rock-solid form they have shown since Bert van Marwijk succeeded Marco van Basten as coach following UEFA EURO 2008.

“The key is to understand that there’s never any guarantee of winning your next match,” Van Marwijk told FIFA.com last month, setting out his philosophy. “Taking the easy way out and being overly confident are classic Dutch traits. That was the first thing I had to battle against in this job, right from the start.”

That message has clearly got through to his side, which has combined brilliance and relentless efficiency, achieving a level of consistency that is impressive even for a nation with the pedigree of the Netherlands.

Taking the easy way out and being overly confident are classic Dutch traits. That was the first thing I had to battle against in this job, right from the start.
Bert van Marwijk

The three-time FIFA World Cup finalists won all eight of their South Africa 2010 qualifying matches and have repeated the trick on the road to EURO 2012, chalking up eight wins in as many outings so far to book themselves a trip to Poland/Ukraine. In doing so they have been solid at the back and lethal up front, scoring 34 goals, an average of over four a game.

The firepower supplied by Robin van Persie and Co proved too much for San Marino last Friday, the Oranje showing the minnows no mercy in an 11-0 romp. That was a Dutch record, eclipsing their 9-0 wins over Finland in 1912 and Norway in 1972.

“It’s something we should be proud of,” said the Arsenal forward, who helped himself to four goals against the Group E makeweights. “I can’t remember winning 11-0 at professional level before.”

Captain Mark van Bommel added: “It shows we’re on the right track,” before the unstoppable Dutch downed Finland 2-0 on Tuesday, extending Van Marwijk’s record of never having lost in 90 minutes during his Netherlands tenure. And with only qualifiers against Moldova and Sweden to come, another flawless campaign beckons.

“People talk to me about records but I don’t think about them at all,” said Van Marwijk, 59, on the eve of the Preliminary Draw for Brazil 2014. “I just concentrate on our football and the mindset of my players. That’s all I’m interested in. This team’s biggest enemy is itself.”

The seventh team to top the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the Netherlands have averaged seventh place overall since its inception, and since 2000 have never slipped below ninth. Their climb to the summit has been a long one, but having completed it, all that remains for them to do is collect some overdue silverware.