Dutch keep winning but fans demand to be dazzled
Brazil are not the only team at this World Cup whose fans and media feel that just winning is not enough. Despite his side's impeccable progress through Group E, most of the questions that Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk is being asked in South Africa are about why they are not yet winning in style too.
Given that, like Brazil, the Dutch have a long history of playing football that is easy on the eye, perhaps it is not surprising that their supporters and reporters alike are proving difficult to please.
But we should also remember that, despite a succession of supremely talented teams and individuals in the last 40 years, only once have the Netherlands collected a major international prize - the 1988 European Championships. Surely winning at all costs is understandable when the alternative option is not winning at all?
That seems to be the way Van Marwijk sees it, and he has already answered some of the criticism he has faced at this tournament by saying: "Why do we focus on good football instead of winning? We want to do both but the important thing is we learn to win ugly games."
Winning is something the former Feyenoord coach is proving to be very good at by the way.
Van Marwijk's side have not shown the attacking style many back in the Netherlands would like Photograph: Reuters
The Dutch took maximum points in every one of their qualifiers on their way to these finals, they are on the longest unbeaten run in their history (22 games stretching back to a 2-1 defeat against Australia in September 2008) and they have won all three of their games in this tournament, despatching Denmark, Japan and Cameroon while conceding only one goal, and that from a penalty.
But the continuation of that winning run has not placated many of the purists and Van Marwijk has been given a grilling by the media after each of their wins so far, including the 2-1 win over a spirited Cameroon side that I watched here in Cape Town.
This is a happy Dutch camp so it's unlikely that he is getting the same stick from his players, but even they admit they would like to be playing with more flair.
As Arsenal striker Robin van Persie told me after that game: "Yes, the fans are very critical but I don't mind that because what they want is the way we want to be.
"We want our target to be to play the way they are demanding. That is the target at my club too - we want to win but we want to do it with quality and in a way we believe in."
So far, winning is the only bit of that they have managed but why is the team not playing to its full potential? And does it really matter?
In Van Persie and midfielders Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart - not to mention Arjen Robben, who recovered from a hamstring injury to enjoy a 17-minute cameo as a substitute against Cameroon, they undoubtedly have the personnel to play in the way their followers are demanding.
Netherlands have scored five goals in three games in the group stages Photograph: Reuters
With that quartet, along with striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and effervescent winger Eljero Elia, both of whom who have also impressed after coming off the bench, they have plenty of attacking quality throughout their squad - a lot more than most of their rivals can muster.
But the shape of Van Marwijk's side, so far at least, has not allowed those players to express themselves fully, although we have seen glimpses of what all of them can do, including Robben - who reminded us how dangerous he can be when he cut inside and fired against the post for Huntelaar to score the winner from the rebound.
Like Brazil and Germany, the Dutch line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with two holding midfielders (Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel) allowing the full-backs and the three men in front of them (Van der Vaart, Sneijder and Kuyt or Robben) to supply and support a lone-striker (van Persie).
In many ways it is a low-risk strategy that means the team always has a strong defensive spine, but it often leaves the front-man isolated and, in the case of the Dutch, their army of orange-clad fans frustrated.
The shackles are unlikely to come off now a place in the quarter-finals is at stake but I'm not sure that is such a bad thing? Brazil learned in 1994 that if they want to win the World Cup they cannot always play the way they want to - perhaps 2010 will be the Netherlands' turn to find that pragmatism pays off?
At their last two major tournaments (the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008), the Dutch showed some dazzling form in the group stages but blew up in the first knock-out round (where they lost to Portugal and Russia). This time round, they may not have got near to top gear but, crucially, they have a Plan B which means they are unlikely to be rolled over easily by an enterprising Slovakia side that are still on a high after their memorable win over Italy.
Dirk Kuyt, who in Robben's absence has been a willing work-horse on the right flank, feels it is important that in South Africa they can also rely on being difficult to beat: "This squad is filled with self-criticism as it always can be better and has to be better," he said. "But when we have a lesser day, we turn to our organisation and then we can also survive."
Things don't get any easier from here, however. A win on Monday is likely to set up a quarter-final meeting with Brazil at the end of the week. If his side get past that, then even Van Marwijk might win some plaudits back in the Netherlands.