What are the expectations for the team?
Progression to the knockout stages, probably as group winners and having played some spellbinding football. Thereafter possibly another victory or two, but ultimately returning home empty handed. The back line is seen as the main weakness. The attack, in contrast, is up there with the best of them – assuming guys like Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie are fit.
Is the coach popular?
Definitely. Bert van Marwijk never had the allure of predecessors Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Louis van Gaal, but he does bring a calm and predictability that was often missing in the past. And the results under him have been outstanding, gaining a 100 per cent record during qualification and third place in the FIFA world rankings.
Who are the best and worst interviewees?
Mark van Bommel recently won the Clear Speaking prize from the Open University language centre. Out of all the current Dutch internationals he had, according to the judges, the “most persuasive arguments, a well-developed language technique and a good awareness of the context in which he was being interviewed”. PSV’s Ibrahim Afellay is a notorious mumbler and regularly ignores the press if his team perform poorly, despite being captain.
Are there any players with unusual hobbies or business interests?
Gregory van der Wiel is quite a rap fan and posted an enthusiastic review of a Lil’ Wayne concert on Twitter in the middle of the night, when he was supposed to be in bed recovering from concussion. This injury had stopped him from travelling to play a friendly against Australia – the Ajax club doctor having made clear that Van der Wiel was not in the right condition to make a long-haul flight. Van Marwijk was not amused.
Are there any personal rivalries in the squad?
By Dutch standards this has to be one of the most harmonious squads ever. Wesley Sneijder had a brief episode of handbags with Van Persie because the Arsenal striker took a free-kick during Euro 2008 that Sneijder was lining up to hit. Mind you, although the matter was resolved fairly easily, you sense the two could renew hostilities without too much trouble. In fact, the prickly Inter playmaker looks most likely to be the source of any conflict.
What will the media coverage be like?
Youri Mulder, former FC Twente and Schalke 04 striker, will feature regularly. Mulder is pretty obstinate and opinionated, but generally offers interesting insights. His father, the considerably more cantankerous and provocative ex-Ajax and Anderlecht forward Jan, may also appear from time to time. Coverage will be split between terrestrial and pay TV. The Dutch team obviously attracts the best ratings, but probably twice as many people will watch South Africa v Uruguay than any gameshow or feature film in the same timeslot.
Will there be many fans travelling to South Africa?
Not as many as travel agents had initially expected. Package deals for matches have halved in price but still aren’t being snapped up. Some who are going won’t exactly see much of the country either – charter flights will deposit them on the day of the game and fly them back directly afterwards. Hup, Holland hup, laat de leeuw niet in zijn hempie staan (which directly translates as Go, Holland go, don’t let the lion stand there in his vest) is an exhortation that the country’s national symbol shouldn’t be made a laughing stock through the team’s performance. Derek Brookman & Ernst Bouwes