2 July ~ The mood in the Netherlands has switched from optimism to trepidation. It's all very well winning all four games so far, people here are saying, but look at the opponents we had. Denmark. Japan. The already-eliminated Cameroon. Slovakia. Hardly world-beaters. And now we have to get past Brazil.
Recent World Cup history would suggest a victory for the South Americans. They triumphed when the teams met in 1994 and again four years later in France, although the results don't tell the full story. In both matches the Dutch gave an extremely good account of themselves, and in the 1998 semi-final were unlucky not to win over the 120 minutes.
While today's Oranje doesn't have the same depth of outstanding talent as 12 years ago, they are well-organised, keep possession extremely well and are currently on their longest-ever unbeaten run. Their football isn't always pretty on the eye – one Belgian journalist who follows the Dutch team said that anyone who had watched all four of their games so far deserved a medal for courage and self-sacrifice – but it's certainly been effective.
And in Arjen Robben, more or less fully fit after missing the first two group matches, they have a player who can conjure up the exceptional. His shot against the post after coming on against Cameroon and his excellent strike against the Slovakians underlined his value to the team. Both efforts were all the more remarkable because the defenders must have known what he was going to do – cut in from the right onto his left foot – but still couldn't do anything about it.
Against Brazil he will likely be up against Michel Bastos, the left-back who was deemed not good enough by Feyenoord back in 2003 and was farmed out to feeder club Excelsior before returning to Brazil. This has been an ongoing source of amazement in the Dutch media during the tournament; how could a Rotterdam reject end up as first choice for the five-times world champions? The outcome of the Robben-Bastos duel is likely to be pivotal to the Dutch team's chances of emerging victorious.
Rafael van der Vaart is fit again after missing the game against Slovakia, but is unlikely to start. Robin van Persie will probably retain his place as the lone deep striker, although he hasn't yet shown the form he is capable of and doubts persist on his suitability to play in that position. Expect to see Klaas-Jan Huntelaar replace him at some point should he fail to show any improvement. Mind you, if the Dutch are to have any chance of progressing, almost all their players will have to play better than they have so far. Derek Brookman