The Netherlands will rely on its creative midfield play to offset the unpredictability of the Jabulani ball when it plays Denmark at the World Cup, coach Bert van Marwijk said Sunday.
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Van Marwijk said other teams have had obvious difficulties controlling the new ball in the opening matches of the tournament, but that the trademark quick passing game of the Dutch will not be affected when it takes on Denmark on Monday.
"The ball is doing the funniest things, especially when it goes through the air," Van Marwijk said through an interpreter. "But along the ground you can play it, and that’s our style."
That means the Dutch are likely to rely even more heavily than usual on the short, one-touch passes through midfield and along the wings that made them one of the most entertaining teams to watch during the European Championship two years ago.
The Dutch have spent much of their training sessions this week working on just that, using quick passing drills in small spaces to hone their ability to keep the ball on the ground. High-flying crosses and shots from a distance are likely to be futile, Van Marwijk said after a light training session at Soccer City – a stadium where the seats are as bright orange as the Dutch team shirts.
"Every cross pass you see can’t be controlled, they go over the players," the coach said. "The kicks to the goal, 90 percent of them swerves over the goal."
The multitude of talented Dutch forwards seemed to have similar problems in training, as Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Ryan Babel all struggled to hit the target from close range when meeting crosses during finishing drills.
Injured winger Arjen Robben, who has been ruled out of the Denmark game, trained separately as he recovers from a hamstring problem. Van Marwijk had another brief injury scare during training when Sneijder, who helped engineer Inter Milan’s treble this season, took a hard elbow to the face when trying to go around defender Khalid Boulahrouz. Sneijder stayed on the ground clutching his face and needed help to get up, but rejoined the practice after spending a few minutes on the bench with an ice pack.
"It wasn’t serious," Van Marwijk said. "It hurt, but it passed."
Defender Giovanni van Bronckhorst is expected to make his 100th appearance against Denmark, and said he hopes this will be the tournament where the Dutch do more than just play attractive football.
The Netherlands has repeatedly fallen just short at previous World Cups despite often entering the tournaments with one of the most talented squads. It lost the 1974 and ’78 World Cup finals, and it’s lone major title came at the 1988 European Championship. Van Bronckhorst was on the team that played perhaps the best football of the Euro 2008 group stage, beating world champion Italy, France and Romania before falling to Russia in the quarterfinals.
"We’ve always shown wonderful football, but when push comes to shove we didn’t win the (tournaments)," Van Bronckhorst said. "We have a team that desperately wants to be champions."