Football / World Cup Countdown: Dutch still calling the tune with that same old sweet song: Dick Advocaat remains faithful to the Michels doctrine. Phil Shaw on a coach with a noble mission

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ORANGE marching bands are nothing new to the Scots, yet the one they encountered in the Netherlands last month was something else. Kitted out like characters from a Tango advert and dug in just behind the dug-outs in Utrecht, this oom-pah orchestra provided an intrusive soundtrack to the action.

Bryan Roy's opening goal in a 3-1 win for the Dutch provoked a thrash through 'America' from West Side Story which probably had Leonard Bernstein spinning in his grave. A near miss was followed by the ubiquitous 'Go West'. But if the renditions lacked subtlety and the theme was laboured, out on the pitch Dick Advocaat's team demonstrated that Dutch football can still make sweet music.

'They seem to have an unending supply of talent,' Craig Brown said, with a mixture of admiration and envy, 'and I sensed they were peaking nicely for the finals.' The Scotland manager, who plans to be in the United States to scrutinise two of his side's European Championship opponents, Greece and Russia, is painfully qualified to assess the Dutch as they prepare for their opening Group F match against Saudi Arabia in Washington a week today. Scotland also lost to a Roy strike at Hampden Park in March.

'Rinus Michels, Advocaat's predecessor, masterminded a system and they've stuck to it,' Brown said.

'Every time we play them, whether it's youth, Under-21 or senior level, it's the same. It doesn't matter who is or isn't available. They just pop players in and out of that system.

'They have their sweeper and their two markers plus two wide players, invariably genuine wingers, as well as mobility throughout the team. They use one man right up front - it was John Bosman in Glasgow, Ruud Gullit in Utrecht - with one playing off the front, usually Dennis Bergkamp.

'The back is fairly solid, with rigid marking. But in the two friendlies with us, when Ronald Koeman wasn't available, they used Danny Blind, Wim Jonk and Jan Wouters as sweeper. They're all constructive players, and that enables them to start playing from the back the way Germany do with Lothar Matthaus. They also get fantastic width with lots of crosses into the box.'

Identifying the game plan is one thing; nullifying it quite another. Dutch fluency also accounted for Scottish resilience at the European Championship finals two summers ago, and of course effectively ended England's interest in the World Cup in Rotterdam last October. Only the Republic of Ireland, 1-0 victors at Tilburg in April, have gained the measure of Advocaat's men lately.

Since then, Gullit has made his comeback to the Netherlands' line-up, creating Roy's goal during a 45-minute cameo in Utrecht before suddenly announcing (if not explaining) his withdrawal from the squad.

The Dutch media speculated that Captain Dreadlock had clashed with Advocaat over tactics. Brown, who found Gullit's performance 'pretty impressive', offers an alternative theory. 'The impression we got over there was that Gullit had fallen out with the other players, not the coach. He'd come into the camp to take over and there was a lot of resentment. Once he realised that, it was going to be difficult for him to stay.'

Would the team be weaker without him? 'Definitely. He's still a brilliant player, and he gave them an element of unpredictability every time he got the ball. But while they'll miss Gullit and Marco van Basten, they're not exactly short of strikers. Peter Van Vossen was a lively sub against us, and Bergkamp has nothing to prove at international level.'

The same cannot yet be said of Marc Overmars, the latest Ajax winger to be touted for a big-money move abroad. Brown, however, was excited by the Nottingham- bound Roy, who now appears ready to make a real impact on the world stage, and by Rob Witschge, 'a smashing midfield player.'

His reservations about the Dutch concern their defending. Teams who pressure Ronald Koeman to the extent that he is unable to indulge his penchant for playmaking might make him struggle.

'I'm sure the Netherlands will do well, and maybe even make it to Los Angeles for the final, but of the European nations I fancy Italy more,' Brown said. 'Maldini, Baresi and Costacurta are better defenders than anyone the Dutch have.

'The Italians have their flat back four down to perfection and it's very economical in terms of effort. They squeeze up tightly, which may well be better suited to the climate there because it's a shorter game. The Dutch game is half as long again.'

Brown warns that the Dutch will dismiss Morocco, their last group opponents after the 'derby' with Belgium, at their peril. He watched the Africans play Finland in February and expects them to supply some shocks. He anticipates that Brazil may again flatter to deceive, edging towards Colombia as South America's best bet, and respects Germany's enduring competitiveness.

The trumpets and cymbals of the Oranje-band, trashing 'California Here I Come' at punk-rock pace, echoed Dutch confidence that their team will be a match for any of them.

(Photograph omitted)

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