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

important.”

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

same weakness.

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

well.

“Johan Cruyff was the best football player that ever

existed.”

Van Marwijk now wears winning ugly as a badge of honor. The

Dutch on a record 25-game unbeaten streak that includes 10 straight

wins.

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

there.

“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

do.”

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.”