Craig Brown: Manager's attention to detail gives Dutch hope of upsetting the hosts

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The Independent Football

The Dutch, in particular, take preparation for a major tournament more seriously than most in my experience. The devotion to footballing purity and attention to detail in the Netherlands was initially inspired by the man they still call Mr Michels, who coached them to the World Cup final in 1974 and to victory in this tournament in 1988.

The Dutch, in particular, take preparation for a major tournament more seriously than most in my experience. The devotion to footballing purity and attention to detail in the Netherlands was initially inspired by the man they still call Mr Michels, who coached them to the World Cup final in 1974 and to victory in this tournament in 1988. It was for the incomparable Rinus Michels that Marco Van Basten scored three against England and that wonderful winning volley in the final in 1988 against the USSR. The current Dutch coach, Dick Advocaat, gives him a ringing endorsement by having the same meticulous attention to all aspects of play which, in the eyes of the media, and sometimes the players, makes him a formidable adversary.

In May 1993, I encountered, first hand, the contentious nature of a squad reputed to be susceptible to infighting and dissension. While in preparation for the World Cup, in Advocaat's first spell as Dutch manager, he arranged a friendly with my Scotland side in Utrecht. A capacity crowd, typically bedecked in orange, was present to give that squad a supportive send off to the USA. To say I was astonished when, at the interval, Ruud Gullit did not reappear, was putting it mildly. Apparently there had been a major disagreement with his manager resulting in the player walking out on the squad at half-time. He did not return, neither did he go to the States and never again did he play for his country.

Subsequently there were rumours in Euro 96 with Gus Hiddinck in charge, that all was not well, especially after a 4-1 defeat by England.

Repeatedly in the past week Mr Advocaat has reassured everyone that the squad is a closely knit unit. I believe him. There has been much controversy in the media and among the fans, but this often cements harmony among the players and staff. A persecution complex is one unifying factor and if the players feel aggrieved it can often result in greater togetherness and determination to succeed. One thing is certain, Mr Advocaat is a very strong, determined character. Just ask Ruud Gullit and, more recently, Ruud van Nistelrooy.

I'd be dishonest were I to say that I am not delighted that he has overcome the apparent sniping about substitutions he made against the Czech Republic. How many of his critics have ever had to select a team and make substitutions, especially at this level where every action is scrutinised?

In spite of my obvious support for my friend Dick, I suspect it is going to be extremely difficult for his team to progress against Portugal. One principal reason for this is the same as I gave for a possible England demise against Portugal ­ the grossly unfair rest period between matches.

In contrast to the Netherlands, Portugal again had an extra day's recovery time and this could be crucial, especially as both competing team's matches went to extra-time and the emotional involvement of penalties.

When on the theme of managers, "Big Phil" Scolari is a survivor who too can withstand the most stringent scrutiny. Having lost his opening game to Greece he has come strongly back to life. Immediately dropping four players for the following game against Russia, he had a comfortable 2-0 victory followed by two momentous results against Spain and England.

The width Scolari obtains using Figo and Ronaldo will cause problems against the attacking Dutch full-backs from Barcelona, Michael Reiziger and Giovanni van Bronckhorst. I look for the home country having dominance in midfield where Deco, Maniche, covered by Francisco Costinha, are in slightly better form than Clarence Seedorf, Philip Cocu and Edgar Davids, although the Dutch also have sparkling wide players in Andy van der Meyde and Arjen Robben.

The other semi-final, tomorrow evening, is even more intriguing. Although both countries had fine victories in their quarter-final matches, and the prestige of beating France must give Greece unlimited confidence, they are likely to have difficulty competing with the accomplished Czech Republic team which romped through the qualifying group and have won all four matches.

Both managers have excelled in this tournament context. Otto Rehhagel, 66 next month, the German in charge of Greece, has instilled a sense of discipline in his squad and has allied Teutonic efficiency to the undoubted flair which his side possess. Unashamed to deploy man-for-man marking, Rehhageldeployed 23-year-old Giourkas Seitaridis, of Panathinaikos, to nullify Thierry Henry in the game against France. It would not surprise me if Pavel Nedved received similar close attention tomorrow.

Nevertheless the 64-year-old Czech manager, Karel Bruckner, has produced a tremendous work ethic and sufficient magic so far to take his young side, average age just over 26, many of whom he coached in his era in charge of the Under-21-team, to the brink of the ultimate prize. But, perversely, it's the experience of Nedved, Tomas Galasek of Ajax, arguably the best defensive midfielder in the competition, rejuvenated Karel Poborsky, and giant Jan Koller, of Borussia Dortmund, who will, I suspect, be crucial in this match. In addition, they have the tournament's best goalkeeper in Petr Cech.

Bruckner is poised to emulate what Josef Venglos did with the combined Czechoslovakia in 1976 ­ win the European Championship. And who would begrudge him that achievement?

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