At the next table in the grounds of their St Albans hotel, meanwhile, Edgar Davids sat in sullen loneliness. Within a few hours, the reason became clear. For voicing publicly his discontent at being omitted from Thursday's match against Switzerland after a poor performance against Scotland last Monday, he was to be sent home. This was more like the Dutch those of us fond of their football have come to know: it's starting to go well, let's see if we can self-destruct.
Whether it galvanises the Dutch or encourages England will be seen at Wembley on Tuesday in the crucial group match to decide quarter-final places. But if not from such a crack, England should at least take heart from those that have been evident in the last week.
Until Jordi struck against Swit- zerland after more than an hour to interrupt Holland's stuttering, self- doubting start to the tournament, the link with their great teams and players was only nominally Cruyff. At times they look- ed slaves to the system that demands two wingers, a target man, three at the back and a hol- ding midfield player, even though they had square pegs for these round holes. Jordi looked ill at ease as a right winger, Bergkamp unsuited centrally and Clarence Seedorf not good enough a tackler to aid the defence.
Then Seedorf was taken off for his own protection after escaping being sent off, and the Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, began to hit on a blend. Johan de Kock's arrival as the central defender enabled Danny Blind to ease forward effectively and, as they increased the tempo with the Swiss unable to get out of neutral, Peter Hoekstra's pace on the left became decisive. A good, old-fashioned punt from the goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, to Bergkamp brought the second goal, a reminder that the game should mix the probing short pass and the incisive direct ball.
The relief in the camp on Friday was clear and, though you may never be able to keep an intelligent, communicative Dutchman down, Davids picked the wrong moment to insert his spanner. Blind and Ronald de Boer were too influential with Hiddink, he said. But it was as it should be, particularly in the case of Blind, the team's leader by ability and example. Despite England's seeking to balance more passion and patience, Blind is girding himself for a physical contest. "Against England you know you have to step into battle. It is no secret that they play with two strikers and four in midfield but it is always difficult to play against because British teams play 100 per cent with their hearts and give everything.
"We have to pass the ball well to make them chase and after some time they will tire if you are patient and the moment will come to score a goal. If they press us, I think we can always have an answer because in defence we have got good footballers, not just good markers."
It is the statement of an experienced man comfortable with the thoughtfulness required of a Dutch player; Hiddink clearly is on safe ground investing in him rather than Davids. It also sounds exactly what Terry Venables has been trying to do with England. How well he has succeeded in his two and a half years will be jud- ged on what could be a make-or-break night for the host nation.Reuse content