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Oranje class of 2010 tries to better 70s masters

Oranje class of 2010 tries to better 70s masters

THE last time the Netherlands reached the World Cup final, flares were in vogue, flower was the power and Ronnie and Maggie had yet to walk hand-in-hand into the sunset.

Everything seemed more idealistic then, both on and off the football pitch. Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol, Johnny Rep and the van de Kerkhof brothers, even now the sound of their names resounds with the glamour of football’s finest hour.

If the 1970s was the golden period in Netherlands football, Johan Cruyff was the Dutch Master. He played as if he had honed his skills on Copacabana beach, a genuine rival to Pele and Maradona as the best player of all time.

But neither Cruyff nor the Dutch won.

Despite playing football that seemed to stem from a different planet, the Netherlands lost both the 1974 and 1978 finals, destined never to reach another final, until now.

Will the class of 2010 succeed where the master classes of the 1970s failed?

If they do manage to paint the World Cup Trophy orange on Sunday night, they will have done that which no other European nation has achieved, namely winning the World Cup outside of Europe.

Perhaps more amazingly, they will have gone through the whole tournament, including qualifiers, with a 100 percent record.

Starting with Macedonia almost two years ago, the Dutch have won 14 out of 14 en route to Johannesburg, scoring 29 times and conceding only seven along the way. Only Uruguay, in the semifinals, scored twice against them.

Their incredible record is testament to the organisation skills of coach Bert van Marwijk, who has managed to succeed where all before him have failed in making the Dutch men gel together as a team.

Always blessed with great individual talent, in previous tournaments their greatest enemy has been the one that lies within. Successive campaigns have crashed amid internal squabbling, often with players splitting into unruly factions.

In achieving this harmony, van Marwijk has sacrificed some of the individual skill that made previous Dutch teams so beautiful to watch. Not even in their quarterfinal against Brazil did the Netherlands raise their game beyond the functional. Ball retention, tracking back and holding your shape are virtues that van Marwijk extols. The current Dutch team might not win as many friends as their predecessors, but it might well win the ultimate accolade.

And in Sneijder they have a candidate for the player of the tournament. His goals against Brazil and Uruguay have proved crucial to the team’s progress to the final.

Since Real Madrid decided to sell Sneijder to Inter Milan in August 2009, believing him to be surplus to their requirements, the midfielder has helped Inter to lift the domestic League and Cup double as well as the Champions League. If he adds a fourth trophy to his cabinet on Sunday night, Sneijder will be odds on for World Footballer of the Year.

Not quite the glamour team of the 1970s, but if the Dutch Invincibles of 2010 go on to make it 15 out of 15 in Johannesburg, nobody wearing orange will be complaining too loudly.

Please email your comments to our World Cup columnist Mark Jackson at [email protected]

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