World Cup 2010 - Are Holland the new Germany?

Eurosport - Tue, 06 Jul 23:36:00 2010

Neutrals have always loved the Dutch because of their swagger, their flair and their self-destructive tendencies.

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There was something unbearably romantic about a team of lavishly-skilled but fatally-flawed mavericks breezing to the latter stages before falling victim to those twin foes: in-fighting and penalties.

Now Bert van Marwijk has taken a well-organised and effective team to the final, everyone seems to have gone off them.

Barely a minute passed during their 3-2 win over Uruguay without Clive Tyldesley mentioning their new-found pragmatism.

The fact five goals were scored seemed to be lost on the commentators and even the crowd until a frantic last couple of minutes. All they could do was focus on the odd errant first touch from Wesley Sneijder and Mark van Bommel's persistent fouling (which I'll admit was incredible).

The prevailing thought is that this is 'not the best Dutch side we've ever seen' and they certainly 'haven't hit top gear yet'.

But are the Netherlands really that dull?

At the start of the tournament I wrote a blog post saying many of the big teams would fail to live up to long-held stereotypes.

I wrote the following about the Dutch: "As sturdy as a pair of clogs, as functional as a windmill... you get the idea. Disciplinarian coach Bert van Marwijk has moulded an unfussy squad with more emphasis on organisation than flair."

(I invite you to ignore the bit where I said Germany weren't very good.)

So you'd think I'd be delighted that everyone has come round to my point of view (on Holland, not the Germans)? Not a bit of it.

When something in football's accepted wisdom changes, it becomes just an extension of the original stereotype. Every bit as exaggerated, every bit as unrealistic.

Just as commentators find it impossible to talk about Diego Forlan being good without mentioning that he used to be rubbish, a similar thing has happened to the Dutch.

Thus everyone has become consumed by how circumspect and efficient the Dutch are compared with previous vintages.

People are just as obsessed with 'pragmatic' Holland as they were with 'total football' Holland, when the truth has always been somewhere in between.

Consider some facts: They came into the tournament off the back of a 19-game unbeaten run that now stands at 25. They won all eight games in qualifying and all six in South Africa.

They are averaging two goals a game in South Africa, and have two legitimate candidates for the unified FIFA/Ballon d'Or award (Sneijder and Robben).

Plus they have scored no end of quality goals.

Van Brockhorst and Robben against Uruguay; Robben and Sneijder against Slovakia; Van Persie and Huntelaar against Cameroon; Sneijder against Japan. All fine efforts.

In fact, all of their goals except those against Brazil have come from open play. What more do you want?

So accusations that Van Marwijk has taken the sparkle out of the Netherlands are well wide of the mark.

But people are unhappy because they aren't being Dutch enough. Which basically means they aren't performing Cruyff turns, passing from the penalty spot, forming damaging cliques or sleeping with each other's wives.

Even when they knocked out Brazil, it all seemed a bit routine. That's because we were all waiting impatiently for Germany versus Argentina.

Ever since they gave England an almighty tonking, we have been transparently in thrall to Jogi Loew's merry band of freewheeling entertainers, while the Dutch just joylessly grind out results.

We exaggerate every positive about the Germans - their youth, their speed, their immaculately-dressed coach - just as we used to do with the Dutch.

And while would dismiss Germany as a mere results machine despite boasting wonderful players like Harl-Heinz Rummenigge and Lothar Matthaeus, we now do the same to the Netherlands, whose only crime is to win without undue fuss.

It might be the change of hemispheres, but it seems that the unthinkable has happened: Holland have become Germany, and Germany have become Holland.

So if they meet in the final, expect Germany to take an early lead, get cocky and start showboating, and for the Dutch to manufacture a couple of goals before ruthlessly shutting the door.

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