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Despite their highly impressive performances at UEFA EURO 2008™, Netherlands legend Johan Cruyff believes the current crop of Oranje players have only just started to fulfil their potential.
The Dutchman, considered one of the sport's all-time greats, is excited by the progress of Marco van Basten's side through the competition but feels even greater strides can be made. "These players are still young enough to grow further," Cruyff told euro2008.com. "They are between 22 and 26 years old, not at the peak of their careers, but not young – they are somewhere in the middle. They have got the opportunity and now the question is, can they take it to the next level?"
Quality in abundance
The Netherlands impressed with their youthful vigour as they emerged from the so-called 'Group of Death' with a 100 per cent record, but Cruyff knows the squad has much more to it than pure enthusiasm. "When you see the qualities of Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben – they are all players capable of doing something special in a match and that is an exceptional quality," the 61-year-old said. "Then they have produced these results. Results together with quality. You have to look at these two aspects combined."
Cruyff played with Oranje coach Van Basten at AFC Ajax during a two-year spell in the early 1980s, when the pair were at opposite ends of their careers. The two then worked together when Cruyff became the Amsterdam club's coach in 1985, achieving success in Europe by winning the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1987. "Van Basten had his big glory in his twenties at EURO '88," said the former FC Barcelona coach, who thinks the 43-year-old is reintroducing the 'total football' brand of play he also enjoyed with the Dutch national side. "He's now in charge and it looks like he is bringing back the style of play that he himself was taught. If you look at the players, they are all technically gifted and don't wait for the opponent to impose themselves. They go out and grab the opportunity themselves. Sometimes you lose – bad luck – but I like the approach, I like the attitude."
Looking ahead to Saturday's quarter-final in Basel, Cruyff reckons Russia could take some advantage from the timing of their domestic season. "The Russian league started in March while all the others ended in May. This means having six or seven months' worth of games in your legs at the end of the season, while for them it is only the beginning. So, physically, they are fitter," explained the erstwhile forward, who admires the way Dutchman Guus Hiddink's team performs. "I like the way they play, the high-speed passing, but they sometimes do not have quite the right balance. The Netherlands have quality – they just have to go out and do their best – you can't ask for more than that."
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