THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

14 June ~ You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the media here – or indeed in the country as a whole – who doesn't think the Dutch will win their opening Group E match against Denmark. This may smack of overconfidence, but it's probably more accurate to describe it as justifiable optimism. The team's long unbeaten run and impressive performances in the last three practice matches before leaving for South Africa – banging in 12 goals against Hungary, Ghana and Mexico – has instilled a healthy degree of self-belief.

Arjen Robben’s hamstring injury is the only problem in an otherwise fit squad, and with someone of the calibre of Rafael van der Vaart likely to replace him in the starting 11, the impact of his absence should be minimal. In any case, the expectations are that the Bayern Munich winger will recover in time to participate in one of the other group matches.

The run-up to the game has been remarkably calm and harmonious. Of course there have been (extremely) minor incidents. Trainer Bert van Marijk was evidently annoyed because, during the first training session open to the public, his instructions were drowned out by thousands of local admirers tooting their vuvuzelas.

Some of the players find the wobbling of the new ball a bit unnerving. And a Twitter ban has been introduced for all players because Eljero Elia said something he shouldn't have. But the main story is something of a non-story: everything has generally gone smoothly, and there is a real sense of focus and togetherness among the players and coaching staff.

Interestingly, the high expectations for the Dutch team's opening game and subsequent progress into the knockout rounds hasn't translated into a general feeling that this is a side which could go all the way. With a confrontation against Brazil in the quarter-finals a distinct possibility, most people tend to think the adventure will end there. The Eindhovens Dagblad added a cautionary note to the hype surrounding the so-called Big Four (Van Persie, Van der Vaart, Robben and Sneijder), pointing out that none appeared in the list of 30 nominations put together last year by the France Football magazine for European Footballer of the Year (maybe it would have been better to point out that none of them is particularly Big).

The paper also drew attention to the fact that the main issue was not with the Big Four but rather with the Little Five – the keeper and defence – none of whom has "international allure". In other words, this is a team that is always likely to score but also has a tendency to concede. A 2-1 or 3-1 victory over the Danes on Monday would confirm all the preconceptions. Derek Brookman

Read the WSC World Cup preview for Holland

Comments (1)
Comment by Jongudmund 2010-06-14 12:42:25

I was thinking how France seem to have taken over the mantle for chaotic inter-personal relationships and fallings out from Holland. Something went on between Domenech and Malouda. Gallas won't talk to the media because he's not captain any more. I'm expecting a walk out any day now...

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