11 July ~ While obviously delighted at having reached the final, there are mixed feelings among Dutch fans about facing Spain. Many saw the prospect of meeting Germany as the perfect opportunity to gain revenge for the "stolen" final of 1974. But plenty of others were terrified at the thought of losing to Die Mannschaft once again, and would rather face the reigning European champions – even though they appear considerably stronger than Holland's overachieving neighbours. "I couldn't face another 36 years of getting my nose rubbed in it," someone said to me, although it's difficult to understand who was supposed to be doing the rubbing; the Germans don't consider their triumph in 1974 to be a particularly big deal.
There have been inevitable comparisons with the Dutch teams of the past that contested and lost two finals. Mark van Bommel told the Volkskrant newspaper that, in his opinion, there was a hard streak to his side's play that makes the difference between then and now. Surprise, surprise. "We have a fighter's mentality that was never present in the national team before," he said. "Everyone knows what they have to do in order to progress." In his case that often seems to mean planting his studs in an opponent's thigh, grinning sheepishly at the referee and miraculously escaping a booking.
But there is certainly a mental fortitude among the Dutch that wasn't always evident in the past. Having come from behind to beat Brazil and winning the semi-final after Diego Forlan’s goal had brought the Uruguayans back into the game, they've shown that they can deal with adversity. What's more, judging by the noises emanating from the Oranje camp, they are not lacking confidence either. A defiant Arjen Robben summed up the mood shortly after the last game. "I've lost a major final already this season," said the Bayern Munich winger, "and I don't intend to let that happen again."
With both Nigel de Jong and Gregory van der Wiel available again after missing the semi-final through suspension, Bert van Marwijk will almost certainly revert to the line-up that started the quarter-final against Brazil. Everyone is still waiting for the real Robin van Persie to manifest himself; volleying in the winner against Spain may just compensate for his relatively insipid performances so far.
Whatever happens in the final, the Dutch can expect a spectacular reception when they return to the Netherlands on Tuesday. An estimated one million people will turn out in Amsterdam to welcome them back, with a special trip through the canals pencilled in should they happen to have the cup with them. Maybe Paul the Octopus could try to predict how many houseboats will sink through the weight of spectators on their roofs. Derek Brookman