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van Marwijk, the key to Dutch success

Johannesburg: The Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk has hardly had a stellar career in his 28 years as a coach, managing only to guide Feyenoord Rotterdam to the UEFA Cup in 2002 and the Dutch Cup in 2008.

He also collected just one cap for the Netherlands as a player, and an uninspiring two-year coaching spell abroad at Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund ended in failure.

But now the 58-year-old stands just one game away from leading Holland to its first-ever World Cup title at the third attempt, having already helped shed the country's image as one of the sport's great underachievers.

van Marwijk says his players have drawn inspiration from the great Dutch sides of the 1970s, which played in the 1974 and 1978 finals and lost to Germany and Argentina, respectively. Now his players have the opportunity to eclipse those sides.

The Netherlands has lost just once since van Marwijk took the helm in 2008, and Tuesday's semifinal win over Uruguay was his side's 14th competitive victory in a row and stretched its unbeaten run to 25 matches.

Flattered to decieve

Since the era of ‘Total Football', invented by Rinus Michels and led by Johan Cruyff, Dutch sides have mostly flattered to deceive at major tournaments, with internal bickering and clashing egos constant features of any Netherlands presence.

The only notable exception was when Michels returned to lead them to the Euro 1988 final victory over the Soviet Union. But even then the Dutch were just minutes from elimination in the group stage before a late header from Ruud Gullit ensured victory over Ireland.

Under van Marwijk, the displays may not be as dazzling as in previous years, but criticism of what has been called his team's ‘Germanic' style of play by the Dutch media has tapered off as the tournament has progressed.

Instead, van Marwijk's effective 4-2-3-1 formation — ironically the same one used by his predecessor Marco van Basten — is now being embraced as the Dutch prepare for Sunday's clash with European champion Spain at Soccer City.

This harmony reflects the general mood in the Dutch camp, where — apart from an alleged row between Wesley Sneijder and striker Robin van Persie before Holland's quarterfinal victory over five-time champion Brazil — complete peace has reigned.

The lack of acrimony in the Dutch squad is all the more remarkable considering that many of the players have been together for almost two months now.

Good atmosphere

“We started our preparations on the 10th of May — that's almost two months ago. We had one week in Holland and then we moved to Austria,” van Marwijk said ahead of the game against Spain.

“The atmosphere in the team was good from the first day and is still good, but that's the process of the past two years.” The one fear for the Dutch now is that after decades of underachievement they may now have overachieved by making it to the final with a squad that is severely limited in comparison to previous teams that never made the distance. Apart from Sneijder, van Persie and Arjen Robben, the Dutch look distinctly average in areas, not least in defence, where central pairing Joris Mathijsen and Johnny Heitinga often looked vulnerable against Uruguay.

Veteran left-back Giovanni van Bronckhorst could struggle against Spain's slick passing game, while in midfield Mark van Bommel will have to be at his destroying best to prevent Xavi and Andres Iniesta from dominating. — DPA

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