Dutch put mental strength ahead of skill for final
After defeat in their country’s two previous World Cup finals,
the Netherlands’ players are determined not to put lavish skill
ahead of single-minded focus a third time on Sunday.
The Dutch reached the 1974 and ’78 finals with some of the
football’s greatest players, but each time the host nation
overturned the strutting Oranje.
After Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Uruguay, coach Bert van Marwijk is
determined to make sure that a six-game winning streak at this
tournament does not bring out the traditional Dutch weakness of
assuming the next victory is a foregone conclusion.
“We know we can play football,” captain Giovanni van
Bronckhorst said. “To be mentally strong is now most
Van Marwijk’s memories of the 1974 tournament, when the Dutch
thrilled the world only to then be beaten 2-1 by a single-minded
German team, are too strong for him to let his players fall to the
If they lose at Johannesburg’s Soccer City, it won’t be through
lack of preparation.
“Often when we start beating people, we become overly confident
and then we are sent home,” Van Marwijk said. “We did lose the
match whereas we should have won it because we played wonderfully
“Johan Cruyff was the best football player that ever
Van Marwijk now wears winning ugly as a badge of honor. The
Dutch on a record 25-game unbeaten streak that includes 10 straight
Assistant coach Frank de Boer was there in 1998 as a defender
when the Dutch last reached the semifinals only to be eliminated by
Germany in a penalty shootout. He also senses much has changed.
“In 98, we were happy just to get in the semis and could play
Brazil,” he said.
He noticed the same in the Uruguay players and already knew
victory was coming when the players first put foot on the pitch a
few hours ahead of the semifinal.
“Let me give you a small example: I’d knew we’d win when a saw
a half dozen of their players come onto the field with their
cameras – and I am talking starting lineup players. They filmed the
stadium, filmed the players,” showing they were happy just to be
“Then I knew our approach was much better. That is why it is
that important to keep that focus.”
And De Boer and Van Marwijk have the support from players who
usually love nothing better than flaunt their skills.
Striker Robin van Persie said the players won’t get carried away
by an occasion marked by millions back home painting villages and
cities in the team’s orange color.
“I will only realize it looking back,” Van Persie said. “Now
I have this tunnel vision, and you just do what you have to
Forward Dirk Kuyt knows how bad it is to lose a final after
going down to AC Milan while playing for Liverpool in the 2007
Champions League showpiece.
“I was there and I know what it is,” Kuyt said. “It is not
going to happen to me a second time.”