Bert van Marwijk’s side has been going about their business quietly during the tournament in South Africa whilst the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Spain and Germany have been grabbing the headlines. The Dutch have been pragmatic and churning away like a well oiled machine, a style that many would associate with Germany and not the Oranje. Their victory over Slovakia represented their mix of creative guile and hard work as the flair players Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder were supplemented by workhorse Dirk Kuyt, who set up Sneijder for the second.
Star man Robben opened up the scoring midway through the first half for van Marwijk’s side after receiving a pass from Inter’s Sneijder. The Slovakian defence foolishly allowed Robben to cut inside and use his famous left foot to drive the ball into the opposition net from around 25 yards. The move was reminiscent of so many we had seen before from the Bayern Munich man, particularly on route to the Champions League final with the Bundesliga side. Robben’s return has sparked renewed optimism amongst the Oranje faithful as they believe their prized asset is as important to their chances as Lionel Messi, David Villa, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo are to their respective nations. The Netherlands sealed their second round game near the end when Liverpool man Kuyt laid the ball on the plate for Sneijder, willing his team-mate to score and kill the game – he duly obliged and stroke the ball into the Slovakian goal.
Maarten Stekelenburg would not have been happy to lose his clean sheet after tripping Robert Vittek, the thorn in the side of world champions Italy during the group stages, inside the box. Vittek took the penalty and converted it well for his fourth goal of the tournament and a positive finish for the Slovakians who had exceeded their own expectations in the competition.
Despite their 100% record in both qualification and so far in the finals in South Africa there are still grumblings of discontent from the Oranje Army as they are not happy with the style of the team – they would rather see their team play in the style of the 1974 and 1978 flair sides in the days of Johan Cruyff. The English, Italians and French can only wish they had such worries as the Dutch as their teams all suffered both dismal and unsuccessful campaigns. But van Marwijk will continue to ignore his critics as long as his team continue to pick up the results and you would have to think the Netherlands are emerging as a dark horse for the World Cup. It would seem as though they are yet to reach their peak – we are yet to see the best from the likes of Robben and the team are yet to face a real test after negotiating their way through two easy rounds of football.
The Netherlands coach would admit that his side have to improve further if they stand any chance of beating Dunga’s Brazil, who successfully dispatched of the fearless Chile. If the Dutch defence allow Luis Fabiano, Robinho and Kaka the sort of space they showed to Vittek, Marek Hamsik and Miroslav Stoch then they will be made to pay the penalty. The Brazilians the Dutch share a similar comparison as both sets of fans wish to see their sides play more free-flowing football, the Brazil fans believe their side is ‘too European’ in its style. Dunga also prefers to play two defensive midfielders which many fans argue is unnecessary and some are still a little peeved that Ronaldinho was left out of the 23-man squad.
It is going to be a tough ask for the Netherlands to beat the South American side, but should they get over that hurdle they could face an easier matchup in the semi-finals as they would play one of Ghana or Uruguay and stand a great chance of reaching the final on July 11.