The Dutch were not quite shouting ‘Bring on Brazil’ yesterday, after moving into the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1998, but nor did they sound intimidated by the prospect of Friday’s match in Port Elizabeth.
The Dutch were knocked out by Brazil in 1998, as they were four years prior, but this time, said Dirk Kuyt, it will be different. 'We can't wait to play them and convince the world that we can beat a team like Brazil, one of the best in the world,' said the Liverpool striker.
'We have to step up a level but we are confident,' said Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The captain added: 'We have belief. We started out with this team two years ago and from day one there was only one goal - to win the World Cup. We have won four games and we have three left to become world champions.'
Kuyt added: 'I think we have a chance against any team in the world. As we always say, the Dutch are always convinced of our own qualities.'
That Dutch arrogance too often ends with the squad imploding, either through players breaking into cliques or falling out with the coach. This time it appears to be different.
"The spirit is great,' said Van Bronckhorst. 'Everyone is getting along well and we all have one focus - winning the World Cup. Our coach [Bert van Marwijk] is very calm. He makes the team gel together. He's a good coach for us. He started from day one by telling us to have the belief we can be world champions, and we are still on course to succeed."
There was a hint of the old tension in Robin van Persie’s evident disgruntlement after being substituted in the second round win over Slovakia. Van Persie refused to speak after the game but everyone else insisted there was no problem. 'Everybody wants to play,' said Van Bronckhorst. 'Robin was not happy to be taken out of the game but that is the sort of hunger we want to see.'
'We've got a very good team spirit,' said Kuyt. 'Robin was not happy but he did not want to overreact to the staff or the players. Robin is a great team player.'
No one disputes that Kuyt meets that description. Once a central striker he usually plays wide right for Liverpool but played wide left for the Netherlands to accommodate the return of Arjen Robben. 'I said to the guys I can play in any position up front. For me it doesn't really matter which position I play. It was the most important thing for the team Arjen started on the right so I played on the left. We're delighted Arjen is back.'
'Robben makes a huge difference,' added John Heitinga. 'He's a player from a different class. You see that the opposing defenders start running backwards when he is playing which makes it easier for us to play football.'