With almost a year left to the showpiece football event in South Africa, the Dutch national side has achieved a unique distinction of being the first side from the UEFA zone to qualify for South Africa 2010 in what is expected to be a celebration of football and sports in general heralding a new era in the great African continent. The Oranje, as the Dutch are popularly called, booked their place for the 2010 world cup finals with a handsome performance over Iceland at Reykjavik on June 6.
Put in a not so impressive group 9 of the UEFA qualifying zone, the Netherlands maintained their international pedigree with flawless performances against Macedonia, Scotland, Iceland and Norway. Bert Van Marwijk’s current crop of players have not really been tested against the likes of Scotland, Norway and company as they would have hoped given the gulf in class in the footballing statures of these countries.
Nevertheless, having qualified for the finals with a year in hand with a perfect seven wins out of seven do speak volumes of the professionalism of this Dutch side which looks a good mixture of youth and experience that coach Van Maarwijk has put up in his already successful tenure since being appointed in 2008 after the shock exit from EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland at the hands of Guus Hiddink’s Andrei Arshavin-inspired Russia despite coming through the Group of Death in style.
Now the head coach and his Oranje boys can look forward to a year of tough preparation leading up to next summer or Southern winter in the rainbow nation. What the team needs to avoid this time is the blatant infighting that, over the years, had ruined the country’s bid to win big tournaments. Holland have always produced outstanding individuals and the country can boast of some names that were or are peerless in their respective generations. Yet while setting foot on big tournaments such as the World Cups and the European Championships, these same uniquely talented individuals failed to play as a team and the Dutch fans were left heartbroken at the most important times when the world thought the Oranje would ultimately do justice to their immense pool of talented individuals.
Bert Van Marwijk has done a creditable job so far for the team and his most important contribution, apart from steering the side to World Cup qualification with a year to go, is to bring back Bayern Munich’s versatile and ruthless midfield general Mark Van Bommel who coincidentally happens to be Marwijk’s son-in-law. The thirty two year old no-nonsense defensive midfielder with an uncanny knack for crucial goals has been influential in controlling the Dutch midfield from the back that in the past proved to be the weaklink on big matches. But Van Bommel with his experience has given direction to a side that consists of young talented players such as Wesley Sneijder(injured), Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, Ibrahim Affelay(injured), Klaas Jaan Huntelaar and Ryan Babel to name a few.
With the headache of qualification out of the way, the next twelve months will all be about blending this team and keeping the heart of the team at one place. The preparation starts in earnest when the Oranje face-off against continental powerhouse England on August 12 at the imposing Amsterdam Arena. With the rest of the qualification fixtures set to be used as experiments to test out the Netherlands’ reserve bench, Bert Van Marwijk would closely follow his team’s progress against fellow qualifiers such as Australia and Japan in friendly matches set for the year end. One problem that could keep the Dutch team and the coach engaged over the next few months is the goalkeeping position and the defence, although it is too early to talk about the issue.
Yet personally I feel Maarten Stekelenburg is not the ideal replacement for the legendary Edwin Van Der Saar, with all due respect to the Ajax custodian. Calls have been made to the veteran Manchester United keeper to come out of retirement to take over the reins of the last line of defence but so far the lanky Van Der Saar has refused. Yet one never knows what would happen in the coming eleven months. A great season with the champions of England with Edwin Van Der Saar leading from the ‘back’ could act as a catalyst to the keeper’s thoughts of having a go at the World Cup for the very last time. Dutch fans keep your fingers crossed!
Current Dutch Squad as on June 9, 2009
Goalie: Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax), Henk Timmer (Feyenoord)
Defence: Edson Braafheid (FC Twente), Giovanni Van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord), John Heitinga (Atletico Madrid), Dirk Marcellis (PSV), Joris Mathijsen (Hamburg), Andre Ooijer (Blackburn Rovers), Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), Gregory Van Der Wiel (Ajax)
Midfield: Mark Van Bommel (Bayern Munich), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Rafael Van Der Vaart (Real Madrid), Stijn Schaars, David Mendes da Silva, Demy de Zeeuw (all AZ)
Attack: Ryan Babel (Liverpool), Eljero Elia (Twente), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Real Madrid), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Robin Van Persie (Arsenal), Arjen Robben (Real Madrid).
Players injured: Wesley Sneijder, Ibrahim Affelay