Netherlands Camp Focus – Robben’s fitness vital for Oranje to conquer Blue Samurai

After a winning start against plucky Denmark, the Netherlands will be coming up against Japan, who also won their opening game in World Cup Group E against Cameroon. Bert van Marwijk’s side were less than convincing in their opener, but the Dutch fans can take comfort from the fact that the tournament’s favourites England, Brazil, Italy and Spain have all struggled a little in the early stages.

The Netherlands have beaten Japan once before 3-0 in a friendly in September 2009, but as they showed against Cameroon the Japanese defence is extremely organised and disciplined. Holland may have to bring out one of their most potent attacking weapons in Arjen Robben in an attempt to stretch a mean defensive unit. But the omens are in the Oranje’s favour as they have defeated the three previous Asian sides that they have met in the World Cup finals previously and their own defence, which has been targeted as a potential weak spot has only conceded two goals in their previous five World Cup games. Not that the likes of John Heitinga will have much to worry about, however, as Japan only managed a paltry three shots on the Cameroon goal, which is the lowest total by anyone in the last 44 years at a World Cup finals.

Many believe that the only threat the Japanese have against the Dutch is their midfielder Keisuke Honda, who scored against the group’s African side. You would think that the likes of Wesley Sneijder could give them much more to worry about as he completed 94% of his passes against Denmark, but he must be more incisive and perhaps Rafael van der Vaart should be replaced by a better outlet. Before the tournament many would have thought Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt would be left out of the attack (Robin van Persie even said it publicly), but Kuyt’s work rate is second to none and he has goals in him.

Eljero Elia’s cameo appearance in their opening game has got the rumour mill going into full force as he is now being linked with the likes of Arsenal, which is a testament to his potential as Arsene Wenger has a great track record with youngsters. But for the moment it is more important that he does a good job for the Netherlands he is arguably very important to their plans considering he can play in order to preserve Robben for the latter stages of the competition.

Another substitute made an impression against Denmark , Ibrahim Afellay. Like Elia the PSV Eindhoven player was unfortunate not to score when coming on in the opening game of group E, which would have been his first at international. He insists that he is living the dream: “I enjoy it very, very much. I think that the World Cup is something that everybody dreams about when you are young and now to play at this level is just terrific. This is the level you want to play, it does not matter whether you are a young or an old player, everybody wants to play well and be at the World Cup.” He added: “I try my best and then I see what will come from that.

The Oranje fans will certainly want to see more of the creative attacking displays which Dutch sides have been so famous for in the past, but in van Marwijk they have a pragmatic Coach who values results above all else and he is probably right to do so. Many also feel that he will handle the ego and stop feuds from breaking out like they have done in the past. For instance, Sneijder and van Persie often have disagreements and the coach will have to keep a close eye on these sorts of issues, which can blow over if not stamped out completely.

It is about time that one of the more attacking sides put in a big performance in the World Cup this summer, but after Spain fell to Switzerland then all nations will have to proceed with a little bit of caution. But Sneijder believes that the Netherlands are just getting started and vows that the team will improve as the tournament goes on despite being largely unconvincing in the first game.


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