Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Leander Schaerlaeckens: The Dutch have plenty of attacking options, but a poor back line could crack

Not quite two years ago, Netherlands’ then-assistant coach, Frank de Boer, stood in the bowels of Cape Town Stadium in South Africa. He explained how the Dutch national team had just reached the World Cup final, whereas the arguably more talented 1998 squad of which he was a star performer had faltered in the semis. "What's different is that we now believe we can be world champions," he told me. "In 1998, we didn't realise that we could be world champions. We were happy just to have made the semi-finals. Now we have one mission - and that mission is to become world champions."

Five days later, the Netherlands would fall to Spain in extra time in one of the most grotesque displays of football cynicism in recent memory, punctuated by regular assaults by Dutch studs on Spanish legs and a monstrous Nigel de Jong karate kick to Xabi Alonso's chest. In the time it took Alonso to clatter to the ground, the Dutch ceased to be the world game's beloved aesthetes. 

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