I have to confess, for me, watching orange shirts sprinting upfield in typical dutch attacking fashion is the one of the best sights I can see on a football pitch. The dutch play with a style, precision and flair going forward that cuts opposition defences to shreds, they are masters of the counterattack, and seem always to be blessed with a crop of gifted attackers.
They were easily the most exciting team in Europe in the qualifying stages and made it to the finals with a 100% record- without dropping a point. The Netherlands are in Group E, with Denmark, Japan and Cameroon and should get past the group stage easily even though their opponents are not to be taken lightly.
The only thing that worries in this team is their frailty in defence. Johnny Heitinga to me is their best defender and a very gifted player, and if he keeps his head about him, Holland have at least one slot at the back nicely covered.
Who will partner him at the back? I would have gone with Andre Oojier but he has had a horrific season at PSV and it seems unlikely that the coach will want to start him. Still, he has the experience and the sense to marshall the defence and to me is still a better bet than the error-prone Joris Mathijsen of Hamburg who though he has a good sense of position, is never quite an assuring figure in the box.
Khalid Boulahrouz is an aggressive defender with awesome tenacity but it is this dogfighting nature that spells trouble for him and his clubs sometimes. As a chelsea fan, I must admit he has been the target of my frustration too at times. However, when playing in national colours, he is a man transformed and has put in some spirited displays at both centre-back and left-back. He should make a few appearances as he provides the defence with depth and options.
Gregory van der Wiel was chucked into the Ajax team at centre-back by Marco Van Basten at the young age of 20, and later moving into the right-back slot has since developed into a regular starter for both club and country and suits the teams instinctual style of play to the hilt. He looks to be the classic Dutch wingback and should hold down the right-back slot easy.
Left-back is a bit of a concern for this team and why Bert van Marwijk left the talented Urby Emmanuelson out of the squad is beyond my comprehension. At left back, we will see the ageing yet dependable Gio van Bronkhorst, who is a model professional and their captain. Having been in and around the national team set-up for a while now, he will be in the middle of the action from the word go but his loss in pace will be a problem, leaving the already frail defence under a lot of pressure should he get caught upfield. With Holland’s style of play, they are liable to counterattacks and a lack of pace in defence could be their biggest weakness.
Behind this at best passable defence will stand the 28-year old Martin Stekelenberg of Ajax who though not as good as his predecessor Edwin van der Sar, is still a decent stopper with a reliable pair of hands. His season in the Eridivisie has been more than decent, as he has stood up behind a weak Ajax defence well. He is safe, but not much more.
The Netherlands go into the tournament with one of the strongest midfields in the tournament. Manchester City’s Nigel de Jong and Bayern’s Mark van Bommel should hold down spots in defensive midfield roles. Their performance is crucial to the team, and should they successfully protect the defence, the Oranje will go far in the tournament. Cover for these positions is in the form of Schaars and Orlando Engelaar, who both have international experience and know their role.
Then the Netherlands attacking triumvirate of the excellent Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael Van der Vaart will be feared by every team in the competition. All three possess amazing ball skills, vision and creativity and playing together can be a hugely destructive force.
Robben is coming off the back of an amazing season at Bayern, who he will represent in the Champions league final with Van Bommel on the 22nd. He is in the form of his life and will be counted on to produce the goods in this tournament. If the Dutch go far in this competition, he could well win the Golden boot
Sneijder was a washed-up hero when Inter Milan picked him up from Real at the beginning of this season. He has been exceptional in the hole, creatively linking defence to attack and demonstrating wonderful technique in shooting, passing and set-piece delivery. Will be the main cog in the Orange attacking engine.
Van der Vaart decided to stay on at the Bernabeau and fight for his place even amid their ill-advised Galactico influx and had a decent season for the opportunities given to him. No-one can question his gifts and he is an automatic starter,
Robin Van Persie is fit again and will be the man the Netherlands will look at to score. Will be deadly linking up with the three attacking midfielders with his technique, finishing prowess and brilliant sense of positioning. In the absence of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, added onus lies on him to score, and all know he can.
Options from the bench include PSV’s versatile and promising Ibrahim Afellay, who was considered often at the beginning of his career to be in the Sneijder mould but hasn’t quite lived up to his potential yet. Can still be counted upon to make a few handy contributions. Also on display will be the talents of Hamburg’s lightning quick Eljiero Elia, whose pace and fancy dribbling will surely be called upon to bring misery upon tired defences.
I’m unambiguous in my hope that Holland win it THIS time and I’ll be rooting for them every match they play. They play their first match against John-Dahl Tomasson's Denmark on the 14th of June.
Lets hope their defence stands up to the test because when the Oranje play, the goals will come.