Spotlight on the main contenders: Netherlands
Countdown to South Africa 92 days to go
Thursday 11 March 2010
Regular challengers, but never yet winners, the Dutch will be contenders again in South Africa after an unusually harmonious squad produced a perfect record in qualifying. The feel-good factor continued with Bert van Marwijk extending his contract to the 2012 European Championship before last week's largely comfortable victory over the United States.
Midfield is the strength, with steel and creativity in abundance. Wesley Sneijder's form since moving to Internazionale has been superb and, with Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong behind him in the Netherlands' well-honed 4-2-3-1 formation, he is free to dictate play.
Arjen Robben, if fit (a big "if") will trouble any defence, shown by his fine goal in Florence this week. His understudy, Eljero Elias of Hamburg, could surprise a few, and there is no shortage of strikers. However, Robin van Persie has been injured since November, Dirk Kuyt is hardly a prodigious goalscorer (his goal against the US was via the penalty spot), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is struggling to get playing time in Milan, and Ruud van Nistelrooy has yet to prove his move to Hamburg will be the platform for a recall.
There are also doubts about the defence. It rarely concedes but, as a glance through their clubs underlines (generally Europa League level, not Champions League), it lacks the class of predecessors. That may be less of an issue if, as most Dutchmen hope (and expect), goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar comes out of international retirement for the finals.
"We're on a mission," said coach Frank de Boer, "to be champions of the world." They would be popular ones, we shall see.
World ranking: 3.
World Cup Group: E (With Cameroon, Denmark and Japan).
When might they meet England? SF.
Odds: 14-1 (Coral).
Pedigree: Finalists 1974, 1978.
Last five results: Scotland W 1-0 (a), Australia D 0-0 (a), Italy D 0-0 (a), Paraguay D 0-0 (h), US W 2-1 (h).
Upcoming fixtures: Mexico (n, 26 May), Ghana (h, 1 June), Hungary (h, 5 June).
One to watch: Eljero Elias.
Fan file: Orange. That's about it.
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