Having steered the Netherlands to the FIFA World Cup final two years ago, coach Bert van Marwijk is hoping to go one better at UEFA EURO 2012 and lead the side to only their second major tournament success.
For that to happen, the Oranje will need to begin by negotiating a tough Group B, with Germany and Portugal on the horizon after their opener against Denmark on 9 June, but, speaking to UEFA.com, the former Feyenoord tactician insisted that he is looking no further ahead than their first match. He also acknowledged having a few difficult decisions left to make, and explained how his side has evolved since South Africa 2010.
UEFA.com: As the start of your UEFA EURO 2012 campaign approaches, how do you rate your team's form at the moment?
Bert van Marwijk: Well, we don't have the form which we had at the World Cup yet. That mainly has to do with the fact that we've only had the complete squad together for a couple of days. We have players who play in five different European leagues that finish at different times and each player comes to us in different shape.
Some have been injured for a long time and have just returned, some have played a lot, others have played a bit and some guys had to play Champions League and cup finals. That's not an ideal preparation, but it doesn't make anything different: it's a challenge to get this team so that they'll be really ready.
UEFA.com: Speaking of the UEFA Champions League final, how do you go about lifting players like FC Bayern München's Arjen Robben when they join up with the squad fresh from club disappointments?
Van Marwijk: There are no rules for that. Often, it's the case that when a player returns to a football team he gets welcomed in a particular way, often with humour. I think the players – and you should ask them the question – feel very much at home then, and everything goes naturally.
UEFA.com: On the subject of Robben, up front you are spoilt for choice. Is that difficult for a coach, in that you have to disappoint someone?
Van Marwijk: Yes, that's a discussion which has been going on for years in the Netherlands. I make the choices in the end, but I'd rather have that problem and make my choices from good players than not have them at all.
UEFA.com: In defence you have a different decision to make, with Giovanni van Bronckhorst having retired at left-back and his replacement Erik Pieters injured. How do you plan to cope with that?
Van Marwijk: Well, I won't give away all my team's options here, but it isn't a secret that the left-back position is a difficult one for us. We have to go on and in this squad I basically have three players who could play in that position, as everyone knows. Those players are [Jetro] Willems, [Stijn] Schaars and also [Wilfred] Bouma.
UEFA.com: To a large extent, you have the same team that reached the World Cup final two years ago. How much will that experience help you at UEFA EURO 2012?
Van Marwijk: I've always said that you have to bring the experience of the World Cup with you, and it has to be a motivation for the European Championship. We are a bit more experienced, but that can also be a danger as laziness can creep in, which is something we've discussed. We just have to reach that level once again, and everyone realises that.
UEFA.com: You will also have to reach it quite quickly, given the strength of the other teams in your group. How important will it be to start strongly against Denmark?
Van Marwijk: The advantage of such a strong group, like everyone says, is that everyone is very motivated and has been since the draw. Perhaps it's better like that than to end up in a group where everyone is saying, "Oh, that should be easy." Sometimes it's much harder to get yourself motivated then.
UEFA.com: Spain, the Netherlands and Germany have often been mentioned as the favourites for this tournament. Do you agree with that?
Van Marwijk: We were talked about as one of the favourites before, and when you then lose a couple of times the atmosphere can turn around completely. That's also been the case with Germany. They were the top favourites, but then they lost against France and suddenly everything changed – and now they have lost against Switzerland. France are also a strong team. There are many strong teams: Spain, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, England. They are the strongest teams.
UEFA.com: The Netherlands have performed quite well at past UEFA European Championships, winning in 1988 and also reaching semi-finals. What are you most looking forward to?
Van Marwijk: I am only looking forward to the first game – and so many things can happen. I don't want to look any further ahead, because it doesn't make any sense. It's also not the way I am, so we really have to take it game by game.
UEFA.com: In terms of playing style, have you changed anything since the World Cup?
Van Marwijk: With this squad, if everyone stays fit then we can change small details. We could put a little accent on attack, or play in a more defensive way. At the World Cup, we played large parts of games in our opponents' half. That means you need to be very patient, because if you force yourself too much – and we know the level of football at a EURO – then you know you will face dangerous counterattacks, and we don't want that. We want to attack, but it has to be done in a responsible way. And sometimes you do it in a more attacking way than other times.
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