Dutch to shed chokers tag


BERLIN, May 20 – The Oranje of Holland will be bidding to reach their first final in 32 years in South Africa and shake off their image of group-stage giants, knock-out-phase chokers at the World Cup.The last time Holland reached a World Cup final was in 1978 when hosts Argentina captured their first world title with a 3-1 win as the Netherlands suffered final heartache for the second-tournament running.

Holland tend to come to major championships with form players and flowing football: setting a breath-taking pace in the group stages, only to freeze in the knock-out stages.

In their eight World Cup appearances, the Oranje have reached the showpiece match twice, falling narrowly short in both 1974 and 1978.

Their best recent effort was fourth at France 1998.

Often seen as spectacular, but mentally fragile, the Dutch made a Last 16 exit at the hands of Portugal in a bruising match four years ago in Germany.

They also had a disappointing Euro 2008 after blasting both 2006 World Cup finalists France and Italy off the park in the group stages, only to lose to Russia in the quarter-finals.

In the wake of the disappointment, Bert van Marwijk took over as coach from Marco van Basten and the Oranje have set themselves lofty targets for South Africa.

The current squad have made no secret of their ambition to reach the final and they were impressive in qualifying with eight wins from eight games, conceding just two goals in the campaign to minnows Iceland and FYR Macedonia.

Van Marwijk has kept the 4-2-3-1 formation favoured by Van Basten and was rewarded with a flawless qualification campaign with a two-year contract extension.

Both goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar and striker Ruud van Nistelrooy have retired, but Van Marwijk has inherited a key core of players.

With the likes of Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie, Nigel De Jong and Wesley Sneijder playing well, the Oranje are in form.

Real Madrid’s loss could well be Holland’s gain in South Africa with Sneijder and Robben both prospering after two inconsistent years in the Spanish capital.

Robben has been a revelation in the Bundesliga since swapping Madrid for Bayern Munich and having scored twice on his arrival in the Bundesliga as Bayern won their 22nd German league title.

He also played a huge role in putting Bayern in their first Champions League final since 2001.

Sneijder completed his transfer to Inter desperate to prove his worth as soon as possible, and he made a stunning start to the 2009/10 campaign with a role in the 4-0 derby win over neighbours AC Milan.

Thanks to his reading of the game and pinpoint passing, not to mention his powerful shooting and deadly free-kicks, he has since become one of the most influential playmakers in Serie A.

"The arrival of a player of his class changes the whole team," said Chelsea’s Michael Ballack, who has kept a close eye on the Bundesliga.

"Arjen is quick and he’s a great dribbler. I don’t see any other players like him in Germany today."

The Netherlands were the first side from Europe to book their ticket to South Africa.

This year’s tournament could allow Robben, who boasts 11 goals from his 45 appearances, and Sneijder, scorer of 12 in 58, the platform to show the world what they can do.