If the Dutch team hotel in Sandton felt a little under siege yesterday then that was understandable given that on Sunday they face one of the most awe-inspiring football teams in modern times. But it was Dirk Kuyt who led the way ahead of the World Cup final against Spain by telling the world: We are not afraid.
In fact, Kuyt went one better with a dig at the beaten semi-finalists Germany when he said that if Holland play like the Germans had against Spain on Wednesday night they would definitely lose. The Dutch team watched the game and saw in their old enemies a lack of invention and ambition against Spain; they will not make the same mistakes themselves.
The Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk did his best to look at ease yesterday, but that his players and the Dutch football federation are surprised to have got this far is evident by the fact that they had to move hotel on Wednesday, because they had not booked their own to the final.
It was left to Kuyt yesterday to explain why his team need not fear the European champions, whose domination of Germany in Durban was so complete. Kuyt said that, watching on television, "you could see the Germans were afraid of Spain".
He added: "They didn't try to attack. We are going to attack and then you will see weaknesses coming to the surface. If you play like the Germans you are definitely going to lose. We don't have players who are afraid and we don't have players who feel small against the big opponents. There is respect for Spain but not fear."
There is still a major debate in Holland about whether Van Marwijk will take the option the purists of Dutch football would prefer and play just one holding midfielder – Mark van Bommel – to give Rafael van der Vaart a start. Those who claim to be the defenders of the attacking, cavalier creed of the 1970s teams think that two defensive midfielders is excessively negative, and Holland's traditions demand that Van der Vaart plays.
The pragmatists, of which Van Marwijk is one, believe that Holland need a firmer base from which to build. That will mean that Manchester City's Nigel de Jong coming back into the team after suspension in place of Demy de Zeeuw, who was replaced by Van der Vaart at half-time of the semi-final.
Yesterday, Van Marwijk said that the unity of his squad – an issue in the past – had never been in doubt. For those Dutch journalists who knew Van Marwijk, 58, as a player, that always provokes a smile because they remember him as a rebel. He was a talented left-winger who often argued with coaches and referees and was restricted to one international cap because of the competition in the squad and bad luck with injuries.
Like Fabio Capello, the Dutch coach also took his side away to Austria for a pre-season training camp to which he also invited – unlike Capello – the players' families. "I think that was a very good move," Van Marwijk said. "The atmosphere in the team was good from the first day and it is still good. That is a process [that has developed over] the last two years."
Even so the journalists and the players still talk fondly of the Marco van Basten team that cut a swathe through Euro 2008, beating Italy, France and Romania before they crashed out to Russia in the first knockout round. But this Dutch team is more stubborn. When Van Marwijk was asked to pick out the crucial moment of the tournament he did not chose the win over Brazil but those victories over Japan and Slovakia.
"I think to get that win against Japan meant then we had six points and we were almost sure of being in the next round," he said. "The game against Slovakia [was crucial] because everybody thought it would be easy to win the game but a lot of times in the past it happened that we went home after the early rounds."
That might well have been Van Marwijk's reminder that not everything was perfect under Van Basten. The Dutch coach seems a lot less laid-back than his fellow countrymen and he bristled at an inquiry as to whether he was a better coach than he was a player. If Holland win on Sunday there will be no more questions like that: Van Marwijk will take his place at the very top of the table ahead of all the great coaches from his country.
Kuyt's key point was that while the Dutch team is very rarely weak, this time they have demonstrated an extra edge. "In every tournament we have played we have shown we have quality," he said. "In this tournament we have shown we have more than quality. We also have belief. We believe we can beat every opponent. Against Brazil we were 1-0 down but we still had the belief we could win.
"Against Uruguay we were 1-0 up and they equalised. Sometimes in tournaments before now we would have lost it at that point. This time we stayed focused. We believed in our own quality. We kept our positions. In the second-half we showed only one team deserved to win."
Unusually for the Dutch they will not be such popular winners if they beat Spain on Sunday. Van Marwijk acknowledged at one point that the Spanish were probably "the best in the world" but in the next breath he asserted Holland's independence: "Maybe Spain is influenced by Barça and Barça is influenced by Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels. That's a big compliment for Dutch football. But I don't think like that. We respect Spain but we want to do it our way."Reuse content