Legendary players brought in to quell any possible ‘infighting’, attacking players in form, a defensive conundrum solved? A manager who’s no stranger to success in knock-out football – could the Dutch finally break their duck in South Africa to claim their first world crown?
Everything seems to be set in place, but this is Oranje, with a history of capitulation when there is promise, anything is possible.
Euro 2008 being a good example, coach Bert van Marwijk: “Everyone in Holland was dancing and then we lost (to the Russians) and went home.
“I have tried over the last year and a half to drill a stronger self belief into the players. But it is a process.
When van Marwijk succeeded Marco van Basten after Euro 2008 he brought in Phillip Cocu and Frank de Boer as two of his assistants, with a grand total of 213 caps between them. It’s safe to say both are Oranje legends.
All three represent the ‘Big three’ in Dutch football: PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord – Cocu, de Boer and van Marwijk respectively.
Given some of the ‘internal’ problems of yesteryear, in which de Boer and Cocu have been privy to, any such resurfaces will be extinguished.
The last notable “bust-up”, if we can call it that, involved Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder during the 2006 world cup, if you believe the stories, it was over a free-kick – both these two need to be on their A game if the Dutch are to stand a chance.
And it’s the form of both that has given Oranje fans a sense of believe.
Van Persie, who missed a huge chunk of Arsenal’s campaign, has come back to fitness just at the right time for van Marwijk – his two excellently taken goals against the Mexicans this past Wednesday, showed why he is one of the best in his position playing in Europe.
As for Sneijder, what a season for the former-Ajax man, seen to be surplus to requirement by the incoming second Florentino Pérez administration at Real Madrid, he left for Internazionale under the ever-popular José Mourinho, ending his debut season undoubtedly Inter’s best player (Diego Milito might have something to say though) and a treble to his name – the cherry on the cake being lifting the Champions League trophy under Pérez’s nose at the Bernabéu.
It’s just not these two that have had good seasons.
Arjen Robben like Sneijder, shown the door at Real Madrid last August, move to Bayern Munich reinvigorated him, showing what Real were missing but what he’s all about – much of the season the Robbery combo (with Franck Ribéry) terrorised Bundesliga defences – Robben himself was the star of Bayern’s run to the final of the Champions League, scoring key and spectacular goals away to Fiorentina and famously Manchester United.
His Bayern team-mate Van Bommel, guided the Bavarian giants to the Madrid final, falling just short, never featured much under the reign of van Basten but an integral part to van Marwijk plans, sceptics say it helps being the bosses son-in-law – but after the season he’s had, he’s there on merit.
Another player who could have left the Bernabéu was Rafael van der Vaart, he survived the cull, interestingly Manuel Pellegrini, who has been shown the door for Mourinho, wanted to keep both Robben and Sneijder (which made sense as both suited his formation/style that he had at Villarreal).
With the addition of Kaká, many thought VDV’s days were numbered, but injuries to the Brazilian superstar saw Rafael get more games than anticipated, and boy did he take his chance – on numerous occasions when Real seemed to be out of the enthralling title-race with Barça, he’s saved the day – see the home game against Sevilla.
Van der Vaart alongside van Persie, Sneijder and Robben would be most likely the attacking players who will feature in van Marwijk’s starting XI. With back-up in the shape of Ryan Babel, who hasn’t had the best of seasons, but shown glimmer of the talent that was once dubbed the ‘new Thierry Henry’ by van Basten (yes, I know).
The same can be said for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, another Dutchman leaving Real Madrid, his goal scoring prowess at Ajax alerted the Spanish giants, but never really given a chance – similarly at his new home at AC Milan, but under all circumstances he still knows where the goals are. Also throw in the industrious Kuyt, who has popped up with goals for Liverpool in a frustrating season.
The omission of Ruud van Nistelrooy, joint fourth in the all-time goal scorer for Oranje tied with Johan Cruyff and Abe Lenstra, raised many a eyebrow – can you sense a pattern emerging – leaving Real Madrid, where he had a successful stint, goal scoring wise, to salvage any chance of being on the plane, his move to Hamburg was little too late for van Marwijk. In fairness van Nistelrooy did come out of international retirement – van Marwijk may have just moved on.
Impressionable talent, exciting ones such as Ibrahim Afellay, Gregory van der Wiel and Eljero Elia will all be on the place, hoping to make an impact from the wings.
The defence which in recent tournaments been the bane for the Dutch, seems to be settling, Johnny Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen have formed a working solid partnership, with exciting full-backs in the shape of already mentioned van der Wiel, who has had a solid season with Ajax, even chipping in with goals.
On the left there is Edson Braafheid, unlike van der Wiel not having the best of seasons with Bayern Munich, shipped out on loan to Celtic in January – but has been promised a second chance by Louis van Gaal.
Experienced campaigners such as Khalid Boulahrouz, Andre Ooijer, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Nigel de Jong and those wanting to set out their own futures like Demy de Zeeuw and Stijn Schaars make up the rest of the squad.
Maarten Stekelenburg takes Edwin van der Sar gloves as the number one with title winner Sander Boschker of FC Twente and Michel Vorm making up his deputies.
Frank de Boer and Philip Cocu, suffered heartbreak in 1998 and this could be Holland’s best group of players since that World Cup.
The Dutch have all the ingredients to go the distance, they should navigate out of a group containing Cameroon, Japan and Denmark, but with possible meetings with Spain or Brazil lurking deep into the tournament, it will be the real test to see if van Marwijk has succeed in breaking that mental block.
Then the future could be bright, the future could be Oranje.
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Written By Mohammed Moallim