Dutch plight: 3 World Cup finals, but no crown

Published Jul. 12, 2010 5:25 p.m. ET

Three World Cup finals and the Dutch still have nothing to show for it.

After Sunday, in fact, even less. The country's reputation as one of the world's most beautiful teams to watch was also tarnished.

One day after the Dutch lost 1-0 to Spain in extra time, television replays across the globe were still showing the ugly fouls that marred the Dutch performance.

And then there was players' bile over the officiating. After the final ended, midfielder Mark van Bommel and a few teammates harangued referee Howard Webb for a series of perceived injustices.

The Oranje came to South Africa riding a wave of goodwill based on four decades of often brilliant, attacking play by the likes of Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten. Those greats though never got to lift the cup. Coach Bert van Marwijk was intent on changing that with a realistic, sometimes cold approach.

''I would have loved to win it with not so beautiful football,'' Van Marwijk said.

It didn't happen.


Of the four creative players groomed for greatness in this World Cup - Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Rafael van der Vaart - only Robben performed Sunday.

Twice he could have given the Dutch the lead on breaks with only goalkeeper Iker Casillas to beat. On the first occasion, Casillas made a brilliant save.

''The ball simply should have gone into the net,'' Robben said.

On the second, Robben was manhandled by Carles Puyol, but kept standing until Casillas saved again.

For the rest, the Dutch showed little of their vaunted creative sparkle and the only other outstanding player was goalie Maarten Stekelenburg.

Van Marwijk made sure his players understood the importance of possession as well as the Spanish did. But while Andres Iniesta ran riot for most of the match until he scored the decider four minutes from extra time, the Dutch could not turn possession into creative play. Instead, they turned far too often to dirty tactics, with nine yellow cards and a sending off to prove it.

While Spain received FIFA's Fair Play award, the Netherlands excelled at the other end. They had 22 yellow cards in seven games, at least double any of the four teams playing the final stages. They also committed the most fouls (126), with only Uruguay close at 99.

The creative core of the team should still be in its prime for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, so another go at a final might await. In 1988, the Dutch won the European Championship, with the likes of Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit.

But while the future beckons, the sting remains for now.

''We are angry that we lost because we came so close,'' forward Dirk Kuyt said. ''I know you cannot blame others, but the ref was more favorable to Spain.''