JOHANNESBURG - Netherlands coach Bert van
Marwijk has clearly learned lessons from the country's past
failures at major tournaments after steering his team to the
World Cup final against Spain at Soccer City on Sunday.
Marco van Basten twice guided exciting Dutch sides through
tough groups, at the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 European
championship, only to see them fall in the first knockout round.
Four years ago, Netherlands qualified second in their group
behind Argentina on goal difference but were then knocked out by
Portugal in a bad-tempered match in Nuremberg.
Two years later at the Euros they came top of their group
having brushed aside Italy and France, who went on to contest
the World Cup final, but fell to Guus Hiddink's Russia in Basel.
Van Marwijk took over after the 2008 campaign and led his
team through qualifying with eight straight wins. They have
added six more victories in South Africa in easing through the
group stage before eliminating Slovakia, Brazil and Uruguay.
The coach has kept his team sharp and on form during the
campaign. Mental strength has been important too, he said,
although the side needed more belief in their abilities.
"I have tried... to drill a stronger self-belief into the
players but it is a process," the coach said earlier this year.
From day one the Dutch camp, this time without their almost
traditional differences, have shown a belief in the mission the
coach unveiled at the start of his tenure.
But while they had an impressive run of form before the
tournament, the Dutch had been dealt a fairly easy qualifying
group featuring Iceland, Scotland, Macedonia and Norway. That
left Van Marwijk with little idea of how good his team were.
During the 1970s, Netherlands had a side bursting with big
names and were one of the strongest teams in the world.
However, despite playing some of the most attractive soccer
at major tournaments, the Dutch have never lifted the ultimate
prize having been runners-up at the 1974 and 1978 World Cups.
This time Van Marwijk, spoilt for choice in attack, has made
the best use of quality players like Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt,
Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie.
With Robben initially ruled out by a hamstring injury, which
kept him sidelined for the first two group matches, Van Marwijk
started with Van der Vaart and Kuyt as wingers to support lone
striker Van Persie with playmaker Sneijder as the linchpin.
When Robben was fit Van der Vaart lost his place and Kuyt
was moved across from the right to the left flank. The changes
worked well and the Dutch have maintained their consistency.
Although they have not displayed the traditional Dutch brand
of sparkling football, Van Marwijk has constructed a team that
has so far proved to be just a bit better than their opponents.
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