Dutch doubts as Van Basten plays it safe

If a response to this summer's irritatingly persistent BBC query "Who will you support?" had been elicited at the fag end of the last millennium, there would have been no doubt about our instinctive response. It had to be Holland, didn't it? The nation that speaks English better than many Britons; a nation with an interesting line in coffee shops and attitudes towards sex; and, from a footballing point of view, a nation which, given its freedom by the school of Johan Cruyff, was the one England (and the other home countries) would most like to be.

In England, those suffering withdrawal systems from what will long be deemed Steve McClaren Syndrome seek alternative inspiration. But Cruyff, now in his sixties, bitterly laments the destruction of his vision in Holland. "Our quality has diminished," he rages at what he perceives as the death of the enlightened football he created. "Victory is not enough. There also needs to be beautiful football."

Even victory may not be forthcoming within the next 10 days. Apart from Holland, Group C is contested by both the 2006 World Cup finalists, France and Italy, as well as Romania, who should not be discounted as inevitable wooden-spoonists, having finished three points clear of Holland in qualifying, drawing with and defeating Marco van Basten's men without conceding a goal to them. No wonder Holland, who confront Italy, the victors in 2006, tomorrow night, have been practising penalties (which in this tournament could decide a group's final placings).

David Winner, author and professional Orangeviste, is distraught, claiming that the line of memorable Dutch teams died in 2000, and condemning Van Basten's product as "rather ugly, boring football".

He views the changing personality of Holland's football in socio-political terms: "Just as Total Football emerged in the optimistic and liberal 1960s, so the new Limited Ambition Football chimes with the harsher social, cultural and political climate of the Netherlands."

Or could it be that Holland no longer produces the Cruyffs, the Gullits, the Bergkamps, and, of course, the likes of Van Basten himself who, 20 years ago in the European Championship final against the USSR, scored a supremely executed goal to help his country to their only major international trophy?

Whatever the explanation, the latter, as coach, has adopted a decidedly more pragmatic identity for his team. Holland 2008 still possess sufficient talent – three familiar figures in Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edwin van der Sar and Robin van Persie (when fit) attest to that – to advance to the semi-finals, if they can escape from their group, which Van Basten concedes will be "a hell of a job".

But, as always with the Dutch, doubts will be harboured about their team ethic, with suspicion lingering over performers such as the former Chelsea winger Arjen Robben. Holland's followers are never quite certainwhat team will turn up, and with what attitude.

Van Basten, in charge at a tournament for the final time, has been badgered by players and pundits into switching from that old Dutch favourite 4-3-3 to a4-2-3-1, employing two holding midfielders with Van Nistelrooy as the lone striker.

"In the Netherlands we were indoctrinated with a certain vision of football and that became our style," says the Real Madrid forward as he considers the New Realism within the Dutch camp. "But there are more roads that lead to Rome. We always said a lot about our way of playing, but the German or Italian style has paid more dividends in the past. It is good that we made the change, as we hardly conceded any goals in qualifying for these finals."

The former Manchester United striker, who has been encouraging Cristiano Ronaldo to follow in his path and make the move to Madrid, insiststhat Italy, even without the injured Fabio Cannavaro, have no weaknesses. "If an opponent is vulnerable you can try to anticipate certain weaknesses, but on Monday we will get nothing. They are just not vulnerable," he says of Roberto Donadoni's team. "So we can focus on our own qualities and see how we can win, or not lose."

Words that suggest it willbe a match of caution, notcolour. And heresy to thearch-visionary Cruyff.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn