Population: 16,400,000
Area: 41,526 km²
Capital: Amsterdam, The Hague
Language: Dutch

The Netherlands qualified comfortably as undefeated winners of UEFA group 1, five points ahead of the Czech Republic.
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Mar 01 Netherlands v Ecuador 1-0
May 27 Netherlands v Cameroon 1-0
Jun 01 Netherlands v Mexico 2-1
Jun 04 Netherlands v Australia 1-1

Participations: (7) 1934, 1938, 1974, 1978, 1990, 1994 and 1998
Best placing: Beaten finalist 1974 and 1978
Topscorer: Johnny Rep, 7 goals
More detailed history information

Jun 11 - NED v SCG  in Leipzig
Jun 16 - NED v CIV  in Stuttgart
Jun 21 - NED v ARG  in Frankfurt

- Netherlands in Group C -
Jan Alsos: 2nd place
Pierre Boisrond: 2nd place
Ruud Doevendans: 1st place
Mike Gibbons: 2nd place
Peter Goldstein: 4th place
Paul Marcuccitti: 1st place
Felipe Santos: 1st place


by Ruud Doevendans

    When Marco van Basten totally unexpected inaugurated as national team manager, he told everyone that qualifying for the World Cup was not his main goal. What he wanted to achieve was a team capable of dominating the opponent, playing beautiful football. Well, to be honest: the team hardly ever dominated and seldom played the kind of football Van Basten wanted, but on the other end they did qualify for Germany, and they did so in a very difficult group where they finished first before the Czech Republic and Romania. No Dutchman complained about it.

    Marco van Basten made surprise choices, sometimes on first sight even weird choices. But it was important that he freed the squad from the big egos like Kluivert and Seedorf, players who always put themselves first before the team but never really made the team better. Being asked why he left out these big players, Van Basten replied: "Big players? You probably mean: big names!", and that told the whole story. Instead of these "big names", Van Basten did not hesitate to call up nobodies like Hedwiges Maduro (after 3 games in Ajax' first team), defender Ron Vlaar and striker Ryan Babel who hardly ever made a starting place at their clubteams AZ and Ajax. For Van Basten it is the team that counts, and he will only take players who will put their heads together rather than playing for their own sake.

    It brought a totally new attitude to the national team, but maybe the most important thing Van Basten brought in was luck. But mostly to qualify for the World Cup, you need more than luck and some of the players were really outstanding during the qualifiers, even when they had a hard time. Holland escaped in the first match against the Czech Republic, winning 2-0 from goals by old warhorse Pierre van Hooijdonk, but could - and maybe should - have lost 2-4. Edwin van der Sar, now at Manchester United, kept the Czechs scoreless and he was the best man during the whole qualifying campaign as well. No doubt about it that he will be Van Basten's number 1 and captain this summer. Holland hopes that nothing will happen to Van der Sar, because the current number two Henk Timmer is a sound goalkeeper, but nowhere near Van der Sar. Not to speak about the number three, most likely young and unexperienced Maarten Stekelenburg who established himself as the Ajax-goalkeeper this year.

    Holland hardly conceded goals during the qualifiers (strangely enough Macedonia scored 2 of the 3 goals against them, where neither the Czech nor Romania could find the net), still their defence is the weakest link it seems. Joris Mathijssen, centreback at AZ, has developed into a strong manmarker but he is the only certainty in the back four. His possible companion Khalid Boulahrouz, a Van Basten find, has performed unsteadily at Hamburger SV and so too in the national team. Ron Vlaar, a young player now at Feyenoord, has not reached international level yet and Barry Opdam, who is also at AZ, is experienced but may not be the right player against big strikers. Holland have no real wings-backs. Giovanni van Bronckhorst is a midfielder by trade but will play on the left. At right back, everything is open and there are at least four possibilities there. Holland's probably best defender at the moment, PSV's André Ooijer, seems to be no favourite of the bondscoach.

    Hedwiges Maduro, a Frank Rijkaard look-alike, struggled to find his form at Ajax this year but always did well in Oranje. It would not be a surprise if Van Basten handed him a starting place, but there is a lot of challenge here. Denny Landzaat, the AZ captain, and Mark van Bommel of Barcelona fight for a place at right midfield, Landzaat can play at Maduro's place too and so can Phillip Cocu, who is a certain choice, most likely at left midfield from where he can score as well. Many thought Van Bommel deserved his place, but Van Basten kept him out of the squad for a long time saying Van Bommel neglected his defensive duties too much. But players like Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart will not be overlooked. And then there is Edgar Davids, who surprisingly hardly ever made the squad but will not bow his head before the final decision is made.

    Maybe it is best when Holland choose their old, attacking style. Up front, they have their best players. Arjen Robben could be the sensation of the World Cup. His form at Chelsea has gone up and down and he is an injury-prone outside left, but on his day he can outdazzle any back and score as well. At centre-forward Holland have many great players to choose from, but so far Ruud van Nistelrooij has been the clear choice for Van Basten. Still Van Nistelrooij had troubles making a starting place at Manchester United recently. At outside right, Dirk Kuijt, the Feyenoord skipper, has strong claims. In his club he is the central striker, scoring and providing his teammates with many assists. He works hard, still is technically well and a real threat to Van Nistelrooij should the United-man struggle. Other strikers who are in contention are Arsenal's Robin van Persie, Feyenoords Romeo Castelen and PSV's Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, a giant who will most likely be used as a pinchhitter.

    Argentina, Serbia & Montenegro, Ivory Coast. That is the first task for Holland, and not an easy one. In this group everyone can finish first, but also end up last. If Van Basten keeps his luck, Holland could go a long way. But looking at the team, looking at the qualities they have and they don't have, a place in the quarterfinals would be a success.




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