The Netherlands have long been associated with their 'total football' brand of play and although their trophy cabinet includes the 1988 UEFA European Championship, they have not added the world crown despite two final appearances in the 1970s – there are signs to suggest this might change in the next week, though.
Yet again, the Oranje are tantalisingly close to the game's highest honour after a rousing second-half display stunned Brazil on Friday and set up a semi-final against Uruguay. Two wins away from the ultimate prize, Bert van Marwijk's side lack nothing if not belief: they are unbeaten in 24 games and have won every single match in this FIFA World Cup campaign, including the qualifiers.
Under Marco van Basten, the Dutch roared out of the traps at UEFA EURO 2008, beating the 2006 World Cup finalists – Italy and France – in their first two matches. Again, it was the manner of their displays that caught the eye with some breathtaking attacking football on show, but once it got to the knockout stages they faltered, Russia winning their quarter-final in extra time.
During Van Marwijk's reign, though, the Dutch have adopted a more pragmatic approach, adding a hard edge to their attractive style. "At the European Championship we played two really good matches, although we also offered our opponents a lot of chances, and in the next stage we got knocked out," the coach said. "
When I took over this job, my first goal was to teach the team to defend better."
The 58-year-old has built a side that contains plenty of pedigree – with Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel all playing in the 2010 UEFA Champions League final – but that also manages to do what it takes to win each game. A stirring second-half display against tournament favourites Brazil was characteristic of this mindset. "That game displayed every quality this team has: realistic football, strong tactically, but also attractive," Van Marwijk added. "I am satisfied, but I am not the type to rest on my laurels."
Style of play is still important for the Dutch. "We still want to play attractive football," he said, "but because we haven't scored that many goals so far, people see it differently as they only associate attractive football with lots of goals." Now, though, all focus is on Tuesday's semi against Uruguay in Cape Town – a team Van Marwijk can see shades of in his new order. "They battle and survive. That is why they've reached the semi-finals. We must certainly not underestimate them otherwise things will go wrong for us."
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