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Dutch keep winning but fans demand to be dazzled

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Chris Bevan | 16:42 UK time, Sunday, 27 June 2010

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.

True, they are yet to hit full stride here, but few teams really have and they still appear in decent shape going into their second-round match against Slovakia in Durban on Monday.

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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Im supporting the Dutch now England are out. Plays who know what they are doing and the system they are playing in! RVP do us all proud!

  • Comment number 2.

    Totally agree with DJL1984. The Dutch play attacking football and are a good footballing nation who finally deserve to win a cup. Great football fans.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'd love to see Holland win it now Chris for European footie's sake ;)... with a bit of style along the way from Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Dirk Kuyt, Arjen Robben et al if at all possible but their fans shouldn't worry how it comes about as long as it's fair with no need for dodgy TV calls ;)!

    I don't think they've played too conservatively so far either when you look at everybody else in the group games - no-ones been outstanding (some have been absolutely dire) and maybe the Dutch just haven't felt the need to get out of first gear yet? A Brazil quarter-final could be very interesting and perhaps force them to show their true oranje colours? Here's hoping for a new European name on the trophy and 'our' first winners on foreign soil outside our contintent...keeps our interest up - GO EUROPE apart from Germany..I know sore loser ;(!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Dutch Football fans are upset? They are as delusional as their English counter part. The so-called Dutch flair does not exist and their attack is one of the most overrated attack and has always been since 1978!

    I have yet to see this GREAT DUTCH ATTACK in any game of important! I guess they must be great, because everyone just keeps saying that, and they do occasionally thrash some odd team here and there. But Honesltly, its the Dutch defense that has thier toothless attack that has seen them get kicked out. Why do people think they deserve to win? They are a rubbish attacking team, that feast in small teams (Flat street bullies).
    Any time they player half decent side their vaunted attack is exposed as nothing but bunch of players "WHO LOOK INTENSE AND SEEM TO BE ONTO SOMETHING,' When in reality they are not doing anything. Incidently their best attacking performance have come when they set back and employed the counter attacking style (Against France and Italy in Euro 2008).

    2008 EC (attack toothless agianst Russia, only game came on long ball header).
    2008 Euro Qualifiers. Attack toothless. nearly cost them a place in finals. Scoring 1 gaol in must win game against Luxemburg, Failing to score in two matches against Romania. Had Bulgaria not been upset by Albania, Dutch would have failed to even qualify.
    2006. Scored 1 goal against Serbia a side that had conceded 10 goals in that WC. Did not create a single meaningful chance against Portugal.

    2004 Failed to score against Sweden and got an own goal gift against Portugal and Sweden in quarter and semi finals. I can go on and on all the way back to their great European championship winning side in 1990 that barely scored 2 goals in 4 games.

    But lets continue to praise the total Football of Dutch, they can spank some unmotivated team in meaningless matches!

  • Comment number 5.

    Well I'd like to see the Dutch win. Especially if it's against the Germans. Ik houd van oranje!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    @ U11148453
    You think the dutch team is rubbish, but then again you predicted France would win the world cup, rendering your opinion void. Woops.

  • Comment number 7.

    The Dutch seem to be getting on with the job, with none of the bust-ups of the past. Starting to look like real contenders, the only concern is they run out of steam like the did at Euro 2008.

  • Comment number 8.

    Fans demand to be dazzled? Please don't mistake the negative comments from a few journalists as being representative of what the fans think. Journalists have to think of something to say to justify their existence and just like the British press, the easy option seems to be saying something negative. I live and work in the Netherlands and I have not heard a single one of my Dutch friends or colleagues complaining about the style of play. In fact, most of them think the Dutch team is playing well enough to win the World Cup.

  • Comment number 9.

    well i don't entirely agree. i live in holland, and i have to say, people are a lot more positive this time than they were during the euros. after they won then, i went into work ready to celebrate with them and be happy etc, and all i got was "yea theyll lose next round" or something.

    this time, its a lot more upbeat, theres a quiet belief about them this time. sure its not perfect, but as im sure every england fan would agree - winning is winning!

    theyre playing like a team, and they have two players in schnijder and robben that are capable of tearing teams to shreads!

  • Comment number 10.

    i just hope we dont see a repeat of the russia performance 2 years ago holland were the favorites then as well,the centre of the defence looks the real weakness

  • Comment number 11.

    I agree, apart from those cases in which the Dutch proved to have a potent attack they were rubbish offensively. Where do these idiots come from?

  • Comment number 12.

    U11148453 Against the Russians at Euro 2008 quite a number of the Dutch players have admitted that they weren't thinking about football after the death of Khalid Boulahrouz's infant daughter the day before the game.

  • Comment number 13.

    #6 hahahaha well played sir

  • Comment number 14.

    Great team to watch Holland when they hit decent form, so many intelligent players. I think that's what we lack as a footballing nation, we rarely seem to produce the intelligent sort of players we used to. The likes of Hoddle, Waddle, Gascoigne, Beardsley and Barnes are replaced by a team of athletes first, footballers second.

    Holland and Germany both play beautiful football, Germany today were a joy to watch, just a shame it was against England. And to those who argue that a 4-2-3-1 is a defensive formation, it's what Guardiola favours for Barcelona, I'd say they were quite an attacking team.

  • Comment number 15.


    barcelona play 4-3-3. however spain do play 4-2-3-1, and they are an attacking side, no doubt about that

  • Comment number 16.

    Netherlands so far have really disappointed me. I remember their team 2 years ago, dazzling with great moves and really nice goals. This time they look to be working really hard, but struggling to break teams down. In their group it proved that Cameroon and Denmark were not great defensively, and Netherlands took the reward eventually. Against Japan though it was one of the worst games of the tournament.

    Sneijder has been stifled I feel. I cannot belive when I see his name in Teams of the Tournament so far. He is majestically creative, with his unique ability to use either foot, but so far it seems that he cannot engineer enough space. This is in part due to the poor and selfish play of van der Vaart. He is not on Sneijder's level, holds the ball too much and makes critically bad decisions. Unlike Robben, who should now be playing if he is fit, he has not enough pace and flair when dribbling. To improve, Bert van Marwijk must drop this man.

    Kuyt has been Kuyt. He will provide a decent effort on the right hand side, as long as he is not asked to do too much creatively. Robin van Persie has been entirely underwhelming so far, which is understandable as he is coming back from a long injury, but his touch and skill just hasn't been there.

    The dutch team need to work on being more expansive, and using the width of the pitch more. We saw against Denmark, that after Elia came on and played very wide, they improved from being abysmal going forward to actually quite threatening.

    The results lie in the case of the Oranje. 3 wins does not reflect the brutal nature of their displays on the eye. Of course they will beat Slovakia with efficiency, but the way they are playing will not be enough to beat Brazil. Bert van Marwijk has the players in his squad to improve though, and they can beat Brazil - a team who are similarly dull to watch much to the chagrin of supporters of their footballing culture.

    It is a shame that relatively few teams at this world cup - Spain, Germany and Argentina - are willing to be entirely positive in their approach to delivering attacking football. If every team followed the same ideas, then the world cup would be a great footballing contest involving the best players in the world, rather than a dour tactical batter involving the constraint of space and marking. Alas such is the way the game is played these days, not everbody can be satisfied.

    I expect more of the Dutch.

  • Comment number 17.

    U11148453, didn't you picked France to win? I might skip your opinion on this one and any other subject relating to football.

  • Comment number 18.

    Always had a soft spot for the Dutchies so I hope they go well, actually I'm happy if anyone left wins besides the Brazilians.

  • Comment number 19.

    It's the Dutch media who expect both wins and pretty football. The fans just want to see wins - it's funny how this David Winner view of the Dutch still exists as it's very outdated. Van Marwijk's Dutch team has been result-oriented from the start. The only problem we have this tournament is that Van Marwijk has persisted in playing Van der Vaart on the left wing. Van der Vaart is a great player but no winger and he and Sneijder get in each other's way. The great thing about the Dutch though is that if attacking plan A fails, there's also a plan B, and if that fails, even a plan C.

    U11148453: we've come a long way since Euro 2008. By the way, that result against Russia came on the back of half the squad spending the night at the bedside of Mrs Bouhlarouz who had just lost her unborn baby. Footballers are only human and that type of thing will affect them.

  • Comment number 20.

    Gavelaa: you just have to get out of your Dutch football comfort zone. We haven't come to South Africa to entertain but to win.

  • Comment number 21.

    English man living in Holland.

    You're wrong when you say that this country demands 'pure' or 'total' football. They demand victory and will play to contain their opponents if they must.

    Everyone I know here want a little more freedom for their attacking three midfielders - but that is the limit of what they are asking for. As my father in law said "The defense is good, too good to change. A little more freedom for those behind VP and we'll be a real threat."

    A valid point when you saw how easily they stopped Japan from playing football, the same Japan that scored five goals in their other two group games.

    A lot of the people I talk to here are expecting defeat to Brazil, but underneath that they are pondering just how far they can go if they manage to contain and beat their samba football.

  • Comment number 22.


    Please speak for yourself. I'm Dutch, and I would very much like to see nice football.

    The way we've been playing up till now, we'll win todays match as well, but we won't have the confidence to beat a decent Brasil side, unless instances of individual magic steal us the game.

    And then what? That will mean that we've been watching hideous matches without any form of glory in the end. I would seriously prefer a much more adventureous style of play, a few beautiful matches and then to lose in dramatic fashion from the brazilians.

    You are right about v/d Vaart, he is no winger and he only crowds space for Sneijder and van Persie, BUT SAME GOES FOR KUYT. Kuyt is no winger, and only crowds the spaces where sneijder and van Persie are much more lethal than he is. Van Marwijk maybe is our most conservative and defensive coach yet, and I don't like it at all. The only way we will see the full potential of this squad, is when Robben and Elia are on the wings, if van Marwijk chooses to play Robben on the left and Kuyt on the right against the Brazilians, it will mean our downfall. I still fail to understand why Kuyt has got this huge amount of credit. We already play with an extra defensive midfielder compared to our beloved 4-3-3, so why should we need a winger for its defensive capabilities?

    It is not a dutch way of playing and it will cost us.

  • Comment number 23.

    I've watched every one of the dutch games so far at this world cup and I will now be supporting them as England are out. They strike me as a team that is just a little low on confidence. Maybe the prospect of losing Robben so close to the world cup affected them.

    My view is that if they can beat Brazil in the quarters the they will go on and win the tournament. A victory there would give them the boost to unlock the weapons they have and in doing that will create a team that can beat anyone in this tournament. Watch this space...

  • Comment number 24.

    Steef-O: I'm a Twente fan. I can assure you I enjoyed this season with Twente playing un-Dutch football very much.

    As for the: it will cost us comment. That's a bit weird given our record unbeaten stretch. Van Marwijk clearly wants to relieve pressure on our (comparatively weak) defence by playing conservative football. I get that. It might not be pretty but it's our best chance of winning this tournament.

  • Comment number 25.

    A fully fit Arjen Robben will make the current Dutch side strong contenders for the summit clash in July. Best wishes to the Oranje and their legion of admirers worldwide.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 26.


    Our record unbeaten stretch?

    Against weak opposition that is.

    The way we play now, i don't see us win from Spain, Argentina or Brasil.
    So our best chance? I don´t agree. Our best chance is using our biggest weapons to their fullest potential (Which means using our quick, pacey wingers on the positions they like best (Robben and Elia) and benching Kuyt). Plan B would be subbing de Jong (who´s lack of footballing ability has freightened me) for Huntelaar, adopting a 4 1 3 2 formation with van Persie playing of Huntelaar in a Bergkamp like position. (Like Bergkamp and Kluivert in 98).

    But all of this will never happen, because van Marwijk plays football generated by fear. Fear will never win you anything.

  • Comment number 27.

    A prayer for the mighty Oranje...

  • Comment number 28.

    Robbens the key . he gives a good, solid side that extra bit of flair. Got the Dutch at 9-1 before the tournament and im happy enough so far. Italy didnt pull up any trees in 2006 when they won it , so i'd rather have a good solid start than be ripping teams apart. look at the Euros last time . the dutch clobbered everyone in the group stage but lost to Russia . might as well save the best for the knockout stages

  • Comment number 29.

    As a Scot, I have seen this Dutch side in full flow during qualification and at the time I fancied them to win the tournament. I have seen nothing to change my mind as yet. Argentina, Brazil & Uruguay all look good, but have yet to be pressurised by a strong side (which is also true for the Netherlands).
    The Dutch people are natural cynics and until they come home with the trophy, they will forever be criticised by the public back home.
    My Dutch friends say that the Netherlands side are traditionally not "tournament fighters" and therefore they never believe that they can win. But this is the first unified Dutch side for years, with no major rifts in the squad. I still believe they can win it.

  • Comment number 30.

    Steef-O: I fully agree that we need wing play. But other than that the system is solid. We've instantly looked better with Elia or Afellay coming on so it's all good.

    Thistledhub: I think we're not so bad in tournaments personally. We're the second best nation in the history of the Euro champs and we have never failed to progress through the group stage of any tournament we ever qualified for. Our problem in the international media often is inflated expectations.

  • Comment number 31.

    "Kuyt is no winger, and only crowds the spaces where sneijder and van Persie are much more lethal than he is."

    Well, you're right about van der Waart, he continually drifts into the same positions as Sneijder and blocks off space instead of creating it, but for me Kuyt shows a lot of discipline in the wing role. OK, he doesn't have the pace or flair of Elia or Robben, but he does a solid job, gets decent crosses in and sometimes chips in with a goal. His movement is good as well.

  • Comment number 32.

    Oh yeah, I agree with my compatriot Thistledubh. I have the Dutch as the number one European team in this tournament.

  • Comment number 33.


    You don't want discipline on the wing, you want creativity.
    I want discipline from the centre backs and the defensive midfielders.

    And no, Kuyt doesnt get decent crosses.

  • Comment number 34.

    Add pace and width to the creativity while you're at it.

    Kuyt has none of above.

  • Comment number 35.

    Kuyt is fine playing but if it isn't working he should be brought off for wingers that will be more attacking and faster.

  • Comment number 36.

    Go netherlands always my favourite team at tournaments!

  • Comment number 37.

    If you win every game with 1-0 you will eventually become World Champion. If you win some games with 5-0 but lose others you will probably not. Van Marwijk has clearly realised that. In the past the Netherlands have often squandered points against relatively easy teams, and that is one of the reasons that they have never won the biggest prize in football. The other reason is that they have often suffered from disagreement within the team, or between the players and the manager, and there is no sign of that today.

    So far I have not seen the Dutch dazzle in this tournament, but I have also not seen them make awful mistakes. They have not scored a lot of goals, but they have scored enough. And they have been pretty difficult to score against.

    The Dutch will always need a bit of luck against the likes of Argentina and Brazil. But those teams need luck against the Dutch too. I think that the World Cup is as likely to end up in Amsterdam in a few weeks time as in Rio or Buenos Aires.

  • Comment number 38.

    As an Englishman living in Amsterdam it's my personal nightmare that the cloggies win the world cup! They're arrogant enough at the best of times.....

  • Comment number 39.

    I'm so glad the Brits went out of the WC so easily and early. They are arrogant enough at the best of times.

  • Comment number 40.

    39. At 3:56pm on 28 Jun 2010, steef-o wrote:
    I'm so glad the Brits went out of the WC so easily and early. They are arrogant enough at the best of times.


    Yeah exactly. Top class squad? Haha- never heard such drivel :P
    I preferred the Germans to win actually rather than England- at least them and Holland are pretty awesome while England are dull as, and that's being clean.
    Good luck for the Germans and Dutch in the next round, and predicting a Spain win tommorow against the rubbish Portuguese :)

  • Comment number 41.

    Its good to see the Dutch do well and its also good to see that none of the teams have really peaked so far. Which means that we might be in for very good Quarter Final matches, great Semi Final matches and anyone's Final this World Cup 2010


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