WORLD CUP HISTORY: L’Oranje has twice played in a World Cup finals, and twice have they lost. Both of those appearances were in the 1970’s at the height of Total Football, and many feel those years were the nation’s best chance at a title. South Africa will be Holland’s ninth World Cup appearance. In 2006, four years after failing to qualify, the Flying Dutchmen made it through to the group phase only to fall to Portugal in one of the nastiest and controversial matches in World Cup history.
QUALIFICATION: At first glance, their qualification success suggests the Dutch are at the peak of their power. They were perfect in European qualifying with eight wins in eight matches to go with only two goals against. But on closer inspection it’s clear to see they were in a very weak group, as Norway and Scotland were the main challengers.
KEY PLAYER: Wesley Sneijder. On a team filled with stars, many will point to Arjen Robben as the key man. But the fact is the entire team will tick to the beat of Sneijder. The Inter Milan man is coming off a breakout season in Italy, forcing himself into the minds of all soccer fans. He does it all, and if a deep run is in line for his team, he will be one of the players to watch throughout the tournament.
EXPECTATIONS: The expectation is a long run for Dutch fans, perhaps even a first World Cup victory. At Euro 2008, the Netherlands excelled in the group phase, but once again fell short when it mattered most, losing out to Russia. Drawn into a group featuring Cameroon, Denmark and Japan, the Dutch are feeling confident. It’s a group they should win, and from there the pieces are in place for a deep run.