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Three months on from their narrow FIFA World Cup final defeat by Spain, the Netherlands are in positive mood as they launch their bid to go one better at UEFA EURO 2012.
In contrast to the crowd of near 90,000 that watched Bert van Marwijk's side beaten 1-0 in extra time at Soccer City, the Netherlands' qualifying campaign will begin in front of under 5,000 at San Marino's Olimpico Serravalle on Friday night. But the memory of their summer feats, culminating in a canal parade through Amsterdam only previously granted after the 1988 UEFA European Championship victory, remain fresh for Wesley Sneijder.
"Actually when I think back, I remember the great moments," the FC Internazionale Milano playmaker told UEFA.com. "Because we did have great moments. And yes we had a bad result in the final, but to get there with our team, with the qualities we had, with the small country we come from, it's a big thing."
The core from that World Cup squad remains intact, save from the retirement of Giovanni van Bronckhorst. That meant Van Marwijk needed a new captain and few quibble with his choice of 33-year-old son-in-law Mark van Bommel.
"At first he seemed a bit shocked about it, but soon after that he said it was a real honour for him," Van Marwijk revealed. "He is a good organiser on the pitch. His [midfield] position is also excellent for the role of captain, and he has been captain of Bayern and PSV. Anyway his selection is widely accepted and he is also a good age."
Another old head in the set-up is Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Hamburger SV striker recalled to replace injured Arsenal FC forward Robin van Persie. The 34-year-old last played for his country on 21 June 2008, scoring in the 3-1 UEFA EURO 2008 quarter-final defeat by Russia. The man who gave way to Van Marwijk as coach after that loss, Marco van Basten, believes the Oranje are primed for a long run again.
"The Netherlands have a good squad," Van Basten said. "They are also a squad with calm heads in terms of age. They could play together for a couple more years. But you always have to wait and see if they deliver the same performance.
"It's not as simple as A-B-C," the former Dutch international striker continued, "and you need each other for that. The realisation that you have to give everything in each game. They did that very well during the World Cup, they all gave 100%, and they really made a great team. They have to deliver that same performance, and then we will wait and see."
However, Van Basten knows there are plenty of teams who could stop the Netherlands, who also have Sweden, Finland, Hungary and Moldova in qualifying Group E. "We all saw that the quality is there, with players like Sneijder and Robben and Van Persie, all the good players that Holland have," the 1988 final goalscorer added. "So that's a good thing. Spain have a fantastic team. And countries such as France, Germany and England will have to put in some effort again too, because they cannot afford to stay away from the stage for too long. So it should be interesting."
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