Still the only Netherlands captain to ever lift a major trophy, Ruud Gullit is full of praise for the current incarnation of the Oranje, who face Uruguay in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ semi-finals on Tuesday in Cape Town. But the 1988 UEFA European Championship winner said on Monday that fortune had played a big part in the team reaching the last four.
“I think we've played well, but we've had luck at the right moments,” said the 1987 FIFA World Player of the Year. “The own goal against Denmark was lucky, the goal against Japan was so-so, and of course the own goal [which was later ruled to have been scored by Wesley Sneijder] against Brazil helped us to get confidence. We have played well and had a little bit of luck – that's the difference.”
The former Feyenoord, PSV, AC Milan and Chelsea star said that things could have been very different against the Brazilians, and that the Dutch couldn't take all of the credit for the famous quarter-final victory. “I was surprised by the outcome against Brazil,” he admitted. “In the first half, I think Brazil played much better than the Dutch team. If [Maarten] Stekelenburg didn't save that shot into the top corner and it had become 2-0, I think the game would have been over.
“Holland came out a little bit differently [in the second half], but I think the key moment was the own [Sneijder] goal. It was a gift. I was surprised that the Brazilians lost the plot. They lost their confidence, they lost their heads. We took advantage of them by playing our own game,” he said.
I was surprised that the Brazilians lost the plot. They lost their confidence, they lost their heads. We took advantage of them by playing our own game and therefore we won.
But Gullit, who has also managed four clubs in three countries and is now working on the Netherlands/Belgium bid for the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cups, said the opportunity now was huge and that Bert van Marwijk's side needed to take the chance in front of them. “Everybody expects this to the moment. We have been twice to the Final,” he said. “The difference is with this time we won't play the hosts – because in Germany , we had to play against Germany and in Argentina  we had to face Argentina. This is a great opportunity to reach the Final.”
"Attacking teams have been rewarded"
Turning to the stand-out Oranje players, Gullit was full of praise for the dynamic Dutch midfield duo of Sneijder and Arjen Robben. “Sneijder is key and Robben has been a vital player,” he said. “A player of [Robben's] quality is important because he makes defenders go on their heels, they don't know what they're doing, they have to double up and other players can take advantage that. He's so quick and agile, so we're happy he is back. Of course Sneijder has been very important until now, scoring goals and providing goals. He's not particularly a goalscorer, he's a guy who usually makes other players score goals. Sneijder has not been a surprise for me, but it's a surprise for me that he has scored so many goals here.”
In terms of other players that have impressed him, Gullit mentioned Spain's David Villa as his pick for top scorer and Germany's Mesut Ozil as the biggest revelation. He also went out of his way to back struggling Spain striker Fernando Torres. But the 47-year-old said the tournament had already been a success on the pitch. “The teams that have reached the last four are the strongest teams at the moment. I hope that Holland will go to the Final and we will see two teams that want to attack with their own identity.
"For me, luckily, the teams that played more attacking football have come to the finals. Destructive football is not going to survive, it's not going to win. I am proud that Spain, Holland, Uruguay and of course Germany – because Germany have been a revelation in the way they play – all the attacking teams have been rewarded, so for me that's what I will remember from this tournament.”