All the right elements are in place for the Dutch to make a big impression in South Africa
Jan Van Riebeeck, from the Dutch East India Company, was the first European to land in South Africa, in 1651, founding Cape Town as a Dutch settlement and supply station en route to the Far East. It was the so-called “Golden Age” when Holland was a powerful trading nation conquering the world and the seven seas.
From Cape Town, the Dutch gradually settled inland and today elements of Dutch culture still exist, with parts of the white minority speaking Afrikaans, a Dutch-related language which introduced words such as “apartheid” into common usage.
Now, almost 350 years later, the national team is back, hoping to make a successful and indelible footprint once again – and one that could lead to a first World Cup triumph.
The Dutch will land with a positive feeling. After all, a 100 per cent record in the qualifiers, a world-class midfield, a surplus of technique with Wesley Sneijder and Robin Van Persie, and an experienced squad are all ingredients that will make them dangerous outsiders.
Surprisingly, in contrast to previous tournament build-ups, optimism in Holland isn’t sky high. Where in the past the feeling was that Sepp Blatter only had to engrave Holland’s name on the trophy, this time the feeling so far has been low-key.
Probably the past has much to do with it. In 2006 the Oranje were eliminated in the second round; in 2002 they failed to even qualify.
A draw pairing them with Denmark, Cameroon and Japan would normally be enough reason to be cheerful, but coach Bert Van Marwijk, not a man for spicy quotes, is reserving judgment.
However, judged on the quality of the squad, the knockout phase is the least Holland will reach. From then on it all depends on whether Van Marwijk has found the perfect front runner – Huntelaar, Van Persie or Van Nistelrooy? – whether Arjen Robben is fit, and whether the weak links, such as left-back, are covered well enough.
Rise to the occasion
Equally important is whether Holland can rise to the occasion and settle games in the latter stages against likely tough opponents such as Argentina, Brazil, France, Portugal and Spain.
In the past the Dutch have shown they are not tournament players, like the Germans or Italians, but this squad, to its credit, contains players from the European top leagues with vital international experience. And, if things go according to plan, Holland will face their first tough opponent in the quarter-finals.
By then, however, more than three centuries after their first arrival in South Africa, it should be clear whether the Dutch can rule the world again.
The view from Holland
“Holland have shown that they can beat World Cup finalists like France and Italy. The biggest question is can Van Marwijk keep the egos of Sneijder and Van Persie under control like their club coaches do? Van Persie up front would solve many problems because Robben and Sneijder can then play in their natural positions. The defence isn’t weaker than that of Spain, England, Germany or Argentina. However, if Stekelenburg is unavailable the next match will be Holland’s last since the other goalkeepers aren’t international standard.”
Jan Hermen De Bruijn, editor of Elf Voetbal