Three and counting, Dutch final futility endures

Published Jul. 12, 2010 1:03 p.m. ET

Three World Cup finals and the Dutch still have nothing to show for it. After Sunday, in fact, even less - since its reputation as one of the world's most beautiful teams to watch was also.

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 performance of the Netherlands in the final. And the players were still spitting bile at the referee for their World Cup final futility.

''We have nothing,'' said midfielder Mark van Bommel after the final ended in acrimony when he and a few others harangued referee Howard Webb for a series of perceived injustices.

The Oranje came into 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 and coach Bert van Marwijk was to change all that with a realistic, sometimes cold, approach that would translate to points in the standings.

''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 World Cup greatness in the months preceding the cup - Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder, Bayern Munich Arjen Robben, Arsenal's Robin van Persie and Real Madrid's Rafael van der Vaart - only Robben performed Sunday.


On two occasions he could have given the Dutch the lead on breaks with only Iker Casillas to beat. On the first occasion, the Real Madrid goalie pulled off a brilliant save. ''The ball simply should have gone into the net,'' he 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 Maarten Stekelenburg, the goalie.

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 were top for yellow cards with 22 in seven games, at least double any of the four teams playing the final stages.

With 126, they also committed most fouls, with only Uruguay getting close with 99.

Now the future beckons. The core of creative players should still be in their prime for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, so they might have another go at a final. The Dutch won the European Championship, with the like of Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit, in 1988.