Friday, 4 June 2010
Holland’s Holy Trinity
Genius is seldom anything but neurotic. This is particularly the case when it comes to the Dutch. Problems with Paul G eh, Vincent? Time to get the razor blade out son. Of course, the Netherlands is not inhabited by a troupe of bleeding, one-eared, lovelorn artists, but it is a neat analogy of the Dutch propensity for self-inflicted harm. In 1974, Holland swept all before them on the way to the World Cup final with a vision of football so sophisticated, so clinical in its beauty, so sure of itself, that the side deemed it appropriate to not only set out to beat West Germany in the final, but to humiliate them into the bargain. The vision of Total Football was unleashed with a vengeance, Holland going one up before the Germans had touched the ball. Cue the decadent, swaggering hipsters – Cruyff, Rep, Krol, Neeskens – taking the piss until the inevitable collapse. Four years later there was no Cruyff – due to a failed kidnap attempt on his family – and again, the side stuttered in the final, succumbing to Argentina in extra time.
It is the match in Munich in ’74 that perhaps best encapsulates the Dutch. It is a self-fulfiling prophecy every four years that they turn up, play everyone off the park and then implode so spectacularly they don’t know their apples from their onions. That Bergkamp goal at France ’98 was worthy to win any match. But again, a great side in orange bottled it, that time against the Brazilians in the semis.
Every four years we hear the overused term ‘dark horses’ precede the name ’Holland’. This year is no different. On paper, we are in typical Holland territory. Quite a shit defence; fantastic attack. Celtic’s Edson Braafheid is in the squad, for crying out loud (no, me either). Looking at the squad list though, the eyes are drawn to three players in particular. They are Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie. Three players that you feel would walk into any other side in the tournament.
Of course, however, another Dutch holy trinity failed on the world stage. Rather than a blaze of glory, the Italia ’90 vintage went out in a haze of Frank Rijkaard’s gob as the pre-tournament favourites, featuring the triumvirate of Ruud Gullit, Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten, fell to the old enemy Germany.
Could this trio be different? Robben has had a barnstorming season. Spectacular goals in the Champions League against Fiorentina and Manchester United proved the icing on the cake as Robben shrugged off his perennial injury worries to show the undoubted talent that implored Jose Mourinho to clinch his signature at Stamford Bridge. On the ball and bearing down on the full back, there are few better wingers in the game. Greedy he may be, but dangerous, always. Alongside him, Sneijder will be expected to pull the strings with the gusto he has shown all season at Inter. Proving Real Madrid so wrong to let him go last summer, the midfielder has shone in almost a quarterback role where he is expected to orchestrate counter attacks with quickness of mind and fleet of foot. It is from Sneijder’s string pulling that the fit-again van Persie will be hoping to be the biggest beneficiary. With talent in abundance, the Arsenal man has seen his season wrecked through injury. The cameo at White Hart Lane on his return from the physio’s table was absolutely top drawer and reinforced the belief at the Emirates that a fit RVP could have propelled Arsenal to the title.
In South Africa, Holland will not be among the favourites. Those roles are taken by Spain, Brazil and in England at least, England. But looking past the quite obviously dodgy defence (78-year-old Giovanni van Bronckhorst is there once more), the midfield and attack brims with options; very good ones as it happens. Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel are two destroyers that would provide more than adequate cover for Sneijder to get behind enemy lines. Dirk Kuyt, for all his faults, is tireless and always seems to come up with valuable goals when necessary. Rafael van der Vaart is an outstandingly talented playmaker on his day. Eljero Elia could be something of a wildcard after the skillful young winger earned plaudits aplenty for his displays in the Bundesliga with Hamburg. And the front three of Robben, van Persie and Jan Huntelaar has goals in it.
Quite whether Holland will get their act together is something only the 23 in orange know. Two years ago they thrashed France 4-1 in the Euros in a scintillating display of attacking football. Then, true to form, they stumbled against a very impressive Russia in the quarters. In qualifying for South Africa, the Dutch had a 100% record, winning eight on the bounce. Add this to the recent 4-1 thrashing of Ghana courtesy of goals from Kuyt, van der Vaart, Sneijder and van Persie and you are looking at a team threatening to peak at the right time. This year it could be different for Holland. I doubt it will be, but given the choice between watching the Dutch, the Italians, the Germans or the English for that matter, I know who wins every time. Adam Bushby
Goalkeepers: Sander Boschker (FC Twente), Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax), Michel Vorm (FC Utrecht)
Defenders: Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), Edson Braafheid (Celtic), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Hamburg), Andre Ooijer (PSV Eindhoven), Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax)
Midfielders: Ibrahim Afellay (PSV Eindhoven), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Demy de Zeeuw (Ajax), Stijn Schaars (AZ Alkmaar), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Mark van Bommel (Bayern Munich), Rafael van der Vaart (Real Madrid)
Strikers: Ryan Babel (Liverpool), Eljero Elia (Hamburg), Klaas Jan Huntelaar (AC Milan), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Robin van Persie (Arsenal)