Road to South Africa
They may have enjoyed a relatively easy draw, but the Netherlands could hardly have been more convincing as they swept all before them on the way to winning eight qualifying games in a row.
In a group that contained one less opponent than the rest of the European groups, the Netherlands started their campaign with a win away in Macedonia and simply never let up. A narrow win in Oslo over Norway was followed by a comfortable home victory against Scotland, and with their two main challengers dispatched early on, the Dutch cruised through to the finals and conceded just two goals en route.
Bert van Marwijk’s side might have enjoyed a charmed run to the finals, but they showed in a gritty final-day win in the hostile confines of Glasgow's Hampden Park that they are also capable of grinding out results.
Despite so much expectation, the Dutch still have no World Cup trophy to show for all their undoubted talents.
Grizzled tactician van Marwijk will hope to change all that when he leads his Dutch side at what could be one of the most open World Cups in years, and there’s plenty of experience rippling through his well-balanced squad.
Skipper Giovanni van Bronckhorst, midfield talisman Mark van Bommel and workhorse striker Dirk Kuyt have seen it all before, while mercurial midfielder Rafael van der Vaart seems to have been around for an eternity – despite being just 26.
Perhaps the only weakness resides in goal, where the Dutch have struggled to replace legendary custodian Edwin van der Saar. Ajax shot-stopper Maarten Stekelenburg is the current incumbent, but doubts remain about his composure under pressure.
Key player: Mark van Bommel
The Dutch have a wealth of creative talent at their disposal, so it’s up to the coach’s son-in-law Mark van Bommel to do the dirty work in midfield, with the combative anchorman a tough-tackling terrier in the centre of the park.
One to watch: Eljero Elia
Goals have proved to come by for the Dutch – who recorded three 0-0 draws in post-qualification friendlies, so the tricky wing play of rising young star Eljero Elia could prove decisive in unlocking stubborn defences.
Coach: Bert van Marwijk
When Marco van Basten’s unpopular reign came to an inglorious end, the Dutch turned to Bart van Marwijk to restore order.
At 57, van Marwijk has been around for some time, but it’s only the past decade in spells at Feyenoord and German club Borussia Dortmund that he has made a name for himself, and this is his first major tournament in charge of the Dutch national team.
Recent Previous Tournaments
2002: Did not qualify
2006: Second round
Perennial dark horses, the Dutch are yet to make good on all their promise and lift a World Cup trophy. Once again they go into the finals with high expectations, but the lack of an authoritative goalkeeper, a struggling front line and an inexperienced coach mean that while they should get out of a group containing Japan, Denmark and Cameroon, their fate could lay in the hands of the draw thereafter.