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Netherlands World Cup fans are cautiously optimistic

Holland's national soccer team, haunted by World Cups past, is hoping luck will finally be on its side.

Netherlands soccer fans play with a giant inflatable soccer ball before a World Cup match against Portugal in Nuremberg, Germany on June 25, 2006. (Andrea Comas/Reuters)

Netherlands World Cup Team Statistics: Group E

Status: Advance to round 2, advance to quarterfinals, advance to semifinals, looses in finals - second place World Cup 2010!

World Ranking: 4

World Cup 2010 Results: 6-1-0

Total goals scored: 12

Total goals scored against: 6

Netherlands World Cup Schedule: June 14 - Denmark (2-0 win); June 19 - Japan (1-0 win); June 24 - Cameroon (2-1 win), June 28 - Slovakia (2-1 win), July 2 - Brazil (2-1 win), July 6 - Uruguay (3-2 win), July 11 - Spain (0-1 loss). 

Netherlands World Cup Soccer 2010

As long as its team is alive in the World Cup, the Netherlands will be a sea of orange. Houses, cars, faces and pets will be painted or draped in the colors of the Dutch royal family. Fifteen million people will wrap their lives in the hopes and dreams of “The Clockwork Orange.”

Yet Dutch soccer is haunted by a memory, a single moment in time, when everything changed. In the early 1970s, the Dutch team, behind the legendary Johan Cruyff, revolutionized the game with a freewheeling style that came to be called “total football.” The team seemed invincible, and the Dutch couldn’t wait for the ’74 World Cup in Germany, where they would prove their prowess at the expense of their old enemy.

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In the second round, they thrashed Argentina 4-0, East Germany 2-0 and Brazil 2-0 to reach the finals — and their coveted West German opponent — undefeated. And then in the final in Munich’s Olympic stadium, the unthinkable happened. At 4:43 p.m. Germany’s Gert Muller pivoted in front of the Dutch net and fired home a goal that crushed the Orange dream.

Four years later, the favored Dutch team would again lose in the finals, this time to Argentina. Now 32 years later, the Netherlands remains the greatest soccer nation never to have won the Cup. And regardless of the team’s talent, the Dutch are fearful of believing that losing streak will end.

Netherlands World Cup History: Inconsistency is their hallmark. Before the two heartbreaking losses in Cup finals, Holland hadn’t qualified for the World Cup in two decades and it failed to qualify for the next two as well. Best recent showing was the semis in 1998.

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Netherlands World Cup Conventional Wisdom: The Dutch may insist “we won’t get fooled again,” but they are sky high on their team — ranked 4th in the world — after it won all eight qualifying games, allowing only two goals. No reason not to be, except history.

Netherlands World Cup Team Coach: Bert van Marwijk

In a country that boasts many rock-star coaches, the Dutch turned to a low-key boss little known outside the country. But van Marwijk impressed when he won the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord and, rather than try to transform the veteran team, is inclined to let them play.

Netherlands World Cup Team Strength: A stylish, tightly organized passing attack that features some of the Europe’s best talents. The team got a boost when striker Robin van Persie, out five months with an ankle injury, returned to the Arsenal lineup for the season’s final games.

Netherlands World Cup Team Weakness: Physical and psychological fragility. Several key players are coming off serious injuries or dealing with nagging ones. Perhaps more serious is how Dutch teams appear to implode due to the collision of giant egos. There are already hints of friction on this squad.

Netherlands World Cup Key Player: Wesley Sneijder

If Spain’s Xavi is the standard for midfield quarterbacks, then Sneijder has risen to the challenge. He is quick to the ball, makes pinpoint passes and can unleash a lethal shot when he finds himself in open space. Despite the surfeit of offensive talent, Sneidjer will be at the center of the attack. And it is probably on him to keep all those big egos happy with his ball distribution.

 


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