- Dutchman tips big guns and underdogs alike to throw caution to wind
- Says Oranje "have to look forwards"
- Picks out Belgium as possible dark horses
The enduring image of Patrick Kluivert at the FIFA World Cup™ is as striking as it is artistic. It marries the elegance and agility of a perfect leap with the power of a thundering header. The snapshot dates from the enthralling semi-final between the Netherlands and Brazil at France 1998, in which Kluivert made it 1-1 with three minutes of normal time remaining. The Brazilians would eventually hold their nerve better to come out on top on penalties.
Now, two decades after his only four appearances at the World Cup as a player, and four years on from serving as Louis van Gaal's assistant at Brazil 2014, the former forward is getting ready to follow Russia 2018 as a spectator. "I'm pretty relaxed about it because my country won't be there," he told FIFA.com during his recent trip to Argentina to promote Spain's La Liga.
"But it's always a pleasure for me and everyone else to watch the best players contesting a World Cup. We're looking forward to some great matches," he went on, before voicing his optimism about the fare that will be on offer. "I think we're going to see an entertaining World Cup with a lot of attacking football."
His reasoning: "Teams like Germany, Brazil, Spain and Argentina are going to attack because in their minds, the most important thing will be getting through to the next round. But the sides who aren't under any pressure are also going to attack because they've got nothing to lose."
Matches Kluivert played at France 1998
Discussing a group of "smaller nations who won't be under pressure and don't have the quality on paper, but are tight-knit units", Kluivert singled out one of the two debutants as a potential surprise package.
"We've seen what Iceland are capable of: they don't have individual match-winners, but they've got that collective spirit. They have something special, a real togetherness, and they make up for their shortcomings by battling hard on the pitch. They can win matches that way; they've already proven that."
The legendary attacker noted that he will be supporting Argentina – fittingly, given our interview was held in the heart of Buenos Aires – and added that, besides the usual suspects, "Belgium could be dark horses" in the race for glory.
Is the future bright for the Oranje?
Missing out on Russia 2018 was a hammer blow for Dutch football, yet Kluivert was adamant that the Oranje "have a future". Asked whether they need to make a change, he replied wide-eyed that "they've already changed coach!" in reference to the appointment of Ronald Koeman as Dick Advocaat's replacement in February.
Pressed on whether a more profound shake-up is required and the traditional Dutch style can still cut it, the one-time Ajax and Barcelona star's response was emphatic: "The national team need to have faith in their way of doing things. There is a change of the guard taking place, with players bowing out so that others can come in, and that's why I think they've got to carry on in the same vein. Only they've got to wipe the slate clean; that's what's most important. They mustn't look backwards – they've got to look forwards."