The Hague, May 27 (IANS) The Netherlands, attending the FIFA World Cup finals for the 10th time, have often been deemed as title contenders, but this time winning the FIFA World Cup would be a major surprise.
Having made it to the last 16 in 1934 and 1938, the Oranje, as the Dutch are known, gained international fame in 1974 with a stunning style of 'Total Football'.
The side of late coach Rinus Michels stole the hearts of the footballing world with players constantly moving, taking over each other's position, reports Xinhua.
Johan Cryuff was the leader of the Golden Generation which also boasted Willem van Hanegem, Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol and Johnny Rep. They made it to the final against hosts West Germany, took an early lead, but lost 1-2 -- leading to the birth of a national trauma.
Four years later, the Netherlands were not as good as in 1974. However, without Johan Cryuff, the Dutch also managed to reach the final against hosts Argentina. Yet again they lost 1-3 in extra time, with Rob Rensenbrink hitting the post in the final minute of regular time.
After a brief crisis, Dutch football returned at the highest level with the likes of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman, winning the 1988 Europe Championships. The 1990 World Cup became a fiasco with the elimination of the Dutch by West Germany in the second round, while in 1994 the quarter-final was the final chapter against Brazil.
The team of 1998 came closest to equalling the Total Football of 1974. Under the guidance of coach Guus Hiddink, the team with Dennis Bergkamp, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Frank and Ronald de Boer reached the semi-finals, in which Brazil proved too strong after taking penalties.
Absent at the 2002 World Cup, the Oranje were ousted in the second round in 2006 but reached their third final in 2010. Although the quality was there with Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, the style of football was less attractive than previous Dutch teams. However, coach Bert van Marwijk had composed a strong team, which only lost to Spain 0-1 in the extra time of the final, the third Dutch loss in a World Cup final.
The stars of 2010 are still present in the current Dutch team -- Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie. Of these stars, Robben is still at his best at Bayern Munich, but Van Persie had a difficult season with Manchester United. The career of Sneijder, who scored five times in 2010, went downwards after the last World Cup. However, he showed some of his magic again in the final part of the season at Galatasaray, so he may yet rise to the occasion again.
The majority of the current Dutch squad are playing in the Dutch league and one can question if the team has enough experience at the highest level in Brazil, with reigning champions Spain and Chile as main rivals in Group B.
Despite this handicap, the Dutch had no problems in qualifying. Coached by Louis van Gaal they finished atop of the qualifying group with nine wins and one draw.
Highlight of the campaign was an emphatic 8-1 win over Hungary in October 2013, showing some signs of Total Football. One of the key players of the team was Kevin Strootman, but the AS Roma midfielder sustained a knee injury in March this year.
The absence of Strootman even led to a possible change of system just before the World Cup. During the whole qualifying campaign, Van Gaal opted for a 4-3-3 system, but he said this attacking system is not possible without box-to-box player Strootman. "I don't have a second Strootman," he said.
Therefore, Van Gaal decided to try another system with more defenders, 5-3-2, which does not match the attacking tradition of Dutch football. "We will remain faithful to the Dutch school," Van Gaal said.
That could be the case, but a fourth final seems a bridge too far for this Dutch team.