Coach Dick Advocaat and his players are united in believing that a burgeoning team spirit has been the key to the Netherlands' passage to the UEFA EURO 2004™ semi-finals.
Robben steps up
The coach and squad came in for stinging criticism after the 3-2 loss to the Czech Republic but have regrouped to beat Latvia and Sweden, the latter success coming via a penalty shoot-out in last night's quarter-final in Faro-Loulé. Arjen Robben, the winger who stroked in the winning spot-kick, said: "We didn't know who was going to take the sixth penalty. We all looked at each other and I said 'I'll take it'.
"From that point on you don't think about it - your mind goes blank and you take the kick. When it went in, it was a superb feeling. We didn't play that well but showed our character and fought hard to win. We have developed into a real team here in Portugal and would do anything for each other. We feel as though a weight has been lifted."
'Unloading of emotions'
Ruud van Nistelrooij, the tournament's joint-top scorer with England's Wayne Rooney, added: "As a team we really believed we could win - it's wonderful. Both teams had chances during the match but as the final minutes approach you focus on the penalties. We have now shed our reputation as bad penalty takers. The unloading of emotions was fantastic."
The Dutch penalty curse had threatened to strike again when stand-in captain Phillip Cocu drilled his effort against the post. However, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's miss and Edwin van der Sar's save from Olof Mellberg ensured the Netherlands progressed to a semi-final against Portugal. "I didn't want to take one, the 1998 [FIFA] World Cup had left a bad taste," said Cocu. "As captain I had to take responsibility, and it was wonderful when Edwin made the save."
Van der Sar said of his technique: "I have worked on it over the last few years, changed a few things, and it turned out well. I chose the right corner a couple of times and one bounced in off my back but I had a good feeling about it. We haven't won anything yet, but everything is on our side now."
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