Netherlands coach Dick Advocaat has rewarded his players with a day off after their penalty prowess ensured a place in the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2004™.
"They have a free day for themselves until Sunday evening," he said in the wake of a tense evening in Faro-Loulé where the Dutch beat Sweden 5-4 on penalties, following a goalless draw. The coach also allowed himself some satisfaction after his 54th match in charge of the Netherlands national team broke the record of his mentor Rinus Michels. When asked whether the feat gave him pride, Advocaat replied: "Yes, I like that."
Advocaat was also keen to praise his players for their togetherness, and made special mention of striker Patrick Kluivert who has yet to play a minute in Portugal. He said: "The atmosphere in this group is terrific. When you only look at the way Kluivert behaves, that is fantastic. One of the reasons for this success was that the group really believed. We have had to come a long way and this group really deserves this."
Touching on the form his side has shown so far, he added: "It might not have been with the best football, but it was earned by working very hard. We are one. And it is also thanks to the whole staff that this unity exists."
The coach was also delighted his players finally overcame their spot-kick hoodoo, following their failure on four previous finals occasions. Looking back to the shoot-out - which saw Phillip Cocu miss but Ruud van Nistelrooij, John Heitinga, Michael Reiziger, Roy Makaay and Arjen Robben score - Advocaat explained his player selection.
Praise all round
He said: "Phillip Cocu did not really want to take a penalty, but we did not have much choice because Pierre van Hooijdonk was still on the bench. Heitinga was a substitute who had some good passes, but when you see how he took that penalty, that is great. Arjen Robben also showed character."
Advocaat added: "I also want to compliment Edwin van der Sar and goalkeeping coach Joop Hiele. They have been working on it fanatically. And what the Swedes did not know is, that we knew that in training [on Friday] nine out of ten penalties were shot into the low right-hand corner."
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