Netherlands or Neverlands – Can Holland win World Cup 2010

netherlands-world-cup-team

Examining Holland’s recent history, key players, the draw and their world cup chances

Which is the best footballing nation never to have won a World Cup? Holland.

Which was the best footballing team never to have won a World Cup? Johan Cryuff led Holland team of 1974 which defined ‘total football’. Which big team is being least discussed prior to World Cup 2010? Holland. In the past 25 years which has been the biggest star studded team to have flopped in a World Cup? No, it’s not France or Argentina in ’02 or Spain in ’98. It’s the Dutch team of 1990.

Despite Holland winning Euro ’88 and AC Milan’s complete dominance in club football the following two years – Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman combined in Italia ’90 to score the biggest flops in the quadrennial event. Having failed to win a single match – scoring three consecutive draws in the group stages (including an ‘agreed’ draw vs Republic of Ireland) – they stumbled in the 2nd round to eventual champions West Germany, in the game of the tournament.

Van Basten, with three European player of the year awards, doesn’t have a single World Cup goal to his name! For Italia ‘90 the players wanted Cryuff as coach, and when they were handed Leo Beenhakker – they contrived, conspired, sabotaged and did every other thing which their fans wouldn’t have liked them to do. After the exit, Beenhakker spoke “There were so many troubles in this team, we couldn’t control it. The world has seen just 25% of it, I will never tell anyone about the other 75%”. Midway during the tournament, viewers could see Beenhakker appear with a big wound on his nose – maybe that was a subset of the 75%.

Things didn’t change much later too. Ruud Gullit walked out of their ’94 squad, days before the event started. Holland were impressive till they were knocked out by eventual winners Brazil 3-2 in quarters, in the game of the tournament. Brazil did a repeat in ’98, at the semis stage, via penalties.

I must stop to mention, besides large sized egos and infighting, penalties have been Dutch’s biggest enemy the past 25 yrs. Eventual winners Denmark knocked them out of Euro ’92 in semis via penalties; France used the same method in pre-quarters of Euro’96, Italy the same in Euro 2000 at semis stage to dismay of the home crowd – after Kluivert and Frank De Boer missed a penalty each in regulation time!

If this historical trend isn’t enough, Portugal’s midfielder Maniche’s winners knocked them out twice – in Euro’04 semis stage and in WC ’06 pre quarters stage. The Dutch regrouped in Euro’08 to impressively thrash Italy and France enroute to topping the group of death. Come the 2nd round and their countryman Guus Hiddink, coach of Russian national team, plotted the Dutch downfall.

UEFA’s show piece event, the champions league final this year, featured three Dutchmen, two of whom made a decisive difference in their respective team’s progress – Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. Yet hardly anyone is talking about the Dutch in this World Cup – seems almost a foregone conclusion, based on history, that the Dutch will promise a lot but deliver little.

The low expectations could go in their favour. So too would be a fresh set strikers in Robbie Van Persie (coming from a long injury stint), Klass Jan Huntelaar (hasn’t played much for AC Milan) and Ryan Babel. Not to forget a little known coach Bert van Marwijk, and the surprises he can throw up – Watch out for Ibrahim Afellay. Ruud Gullit recently said that the team was shaping up to be good enough to lift the cup and internally are quiet confident of a good showing.

The pundit almost sees them sailing unchallenged till the quarterfinal stage – an impressive group topping is on the cards and after that they could play Paraguay and beat them just as impressively. If they can avoid playing Brazil in the quarters (for that, Brazil have to flounder in their group stages), the Dutch could see themselves go all the way to the final match day. But if the script goes as per expectation – they will face Brazil in quarters; a match where you may find the Dutch doing all the running and Brazil doing all the scoring. If Holland manage to score as much as the South Americans, they would then face up their biggest nemesis – penalties!

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