Far be it for this column to disagree with Paul, the octopus oracle who has predicted all of Germany's scores so far and who selected Spain as the winners of tomorrow's final, but the Dutch have already won this World Cup.
Even if the current Holland squad that is doing a passable imitation of the German and Italian teams of years gone by, reaching the final by stealth rather than scintillating skill , suffer the same fate as befell the legendary Dutch teams of 1974 and 1978 and lose another final, it will be a triumph for two Dutch philosopher kings.
I refer, of course, to Johan Cruijff and Louis Van Gaal , two old Dutch (pass) masters who have done so much to influence Holland's opponents in tomorrow's final, Spain.
It is Spain who carry the beacon of hope in the final, it is they who follow Cruijff's vision of total football that he and his mentor Rinus Michels transplanted to Catalunya in the early 1970's when they left Ajax Amsterdam for Barcelona.
Since then Holland's pass and move has metamorphosed into tiki-taka , the short passing Spanish game , the two finest exponents of this style Xavi Hernanadez and Andries Iniesta were nurtured at Camp Nou by Dutch coaches Van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard respectively.
Another aspect of Dutch football that the Spanish and Barcelona in particular have mastered in recent years is youth development , which Cruijff and then van Gaal were instrumental in setting up during their separate spells in the Barca dugout.Watch any international youth tournament and you can be sure the Spanish will be successful in it, if not outright winners .
Of the players lining up in red tomorrow, six will have come through the ranks at Barcelona (Puyol, Pique, Busquets Xavi , Iniesta and Pedro ) with another, Fabregas, likely to feature at some stage. The youth set up at Camp Nou can now rival the world renowned system Cruijff and Van Gaal helped to develop at Ajax, nine of whose alumni are in the Dutch squad (Steklenburg, van derWiel, Heitinga, De Jong, van der Vaart, Sneider, Elia, Huntelaar and Babel).
But Cruijff , who lives in Barcelona, must feel like a prophet without honour when he looks at the way the nation of his birth have progressed through these finals. The current generation of Dutch footballers have lost faith in his gospel, disheartened by years of glorious international failure (The only honour being the 1988 European Championship triumph)
AT the 2008 European Championships the players mutinied against the tactics of coach Marco van Basten, a Cruijff disciple. Led by Marc van Bommel and Ruud van Nistelrooy they demanded to play in a more defensive style, a bitter feud ensued and it was clear that after the finals either van Basten or the dissenters would have to go.
As it was, Holland, having set the tournament alight with swashbuckling football, destroying World Champions Italy and runners up France in the group stage were inexplicably dumped out by Russia, incidentally coached by Guus Hiddink , born Varrsveld, Holland!
Exit van Basten to be replaced by van Bommel's father in law, Bert van Marwijk who would have no truck with the old religion and created a new "Holland".
Brawn rather than brains has been the watch word for Van Marwijck's team. One striker, two hard tackling midfielders, a hard working Dirk Kuyt on one wing and only two players who play in the traditional Dutch style -Sneider and Robben . Van Marwijck's supporters will point to the fact that under him the Oranje have not lost a competitive game , his detractors will argue that they qualified for the finals out of a weak group, have been drawn against average sides in South Africa , Brazil in the quarters notwithstanding, and have been lucky.
Be that as it may, they have reached their third World Cup final, the first where they do not have to play the host nation and after the crushing disappointments of the total football generation ( against Germany in 1974 they took a first minute lead and then, with memories of the war still fresh, set about attempting to humiliate their hated neighbour, only to succumb to a disputed penalty and some instinctive Gerd Muller poaching , while in 1978 Rensenbrink hit the inside of the post in the final minute of normal time before Argentina emerged victorious in extra time) they will believe that Dame Fortune will decree that it is finally their time, whatever the grand old men of Dutch football think of them.
Hat Tip: Simon Kuper
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