I have actually been thinking about this World Cup ever since Andrey Arshavin put the nail in the Dutch coffin on Euro 2008. The unimaginable hurt of that very moment, when all of Holland was really starting to believe in a second Euro championship, quickly gave way to utter frustration and anger. Frustration coming from being eliminated by a very modest Russian team and anger because of yet another dissappointing result from a tournament that started out so promising. Remember the 3-0 trashing that Italy received in the first round? Or the 4-1 humiliation of France just a couple of days later? Yes, that was us. That was the same team that was destined for a semi-finals clash with dazzling Spain, only to be kicked-out prematurely. And it basically is the same team that is travelling to South Africa in little over a week to seek the ultimate prize.
The period leading up to the World Cup is actually the nicest time of the whole tournament. Nobody's had to suffer disappointments yet and everybody is still a possible contender, however unlikely that may be for any particular country. It is this time of year that a general state of optimism seems to engulf the Dutch nation, with everyone feeling the 'this time all will be different-vibe' and it seems nothing or no one will stop us. Of course, this whole feeling is based on very little hard evidence, but let us enjoy it while it lasts.
With that, let's review the 23 man squad that is finally going to put that World Cup Star on the orange jersey. The four drop-outs were: Ron Vlaar, Vurnon Anita, Orlando Engelaar and Jeremain Lens; no surprises there. Initially I had expected that Ooijer would drop out instead of Vlaar, who had such a break-out season at Feyenoord, but it quickly became evident that Vlaar had difficulties adapting to the high level of play in training and when he injured his hamstring, that was that. I still think it a shame that Hedwiges Maduro of Valencia was not considered for this squad in the role of back-up central defender. His improving play in the very tough La Liga should have been rewarded. Plus, he is two times the player Ooijer has become.
Braafheid was preferred over Anita, which is understandable since Anita has been playing left-back for only one season now, and Babel and Elia were considered better picks than young Lens, although expect him to be with the team in 2012. Finally, Engelaar was sent home in favour of Stijn Schaars, a decision I fully support given that Engelaar is too slow and didn't inspire anyone with his play for PSV this season.
With regards to this final squad composition, I received a lot of comments from you guys about the omission of Van Nistelrooy. First off, I am very thankful for all these reactions and encourage you to continue to share your thoughts. So, about 'Van Gol'; including him would basically have meant omitting Huntelaar and although Ruud is one hell of a big name in football and still capable of scoring goals, that seems like a very unwise decision. Also, since either Van Nistelrooy or Huntelaar would play second fiddle to the undisputed central forward Robin van Persie, the impact of either choice may not be that big at all to begin with. Oh, and for those guys still doubting the suitability of Van Persie as lone striker, I would like to refer to Holland's match against Mexico on Wednesday and just about any match of Arsenal before his injury in November: this man is a world class striker people and if you don't believe it, just wait and see.
Speaking about the Mexico match, Holland played really well for the first 30 minutes, scoring only two goals (2x Van Persie!) where they could have scored at least five. The second half was simply really boring, with all the substitutions and a fatigued Dutch line-up because of training so intensely this past week. In fact, the second half was so uninteresting that I found myself zapping through some channels, eventually even preferring the big general election debate that was being broadcasted on another channel. Go figure.
At least Mexico managed to put one in, which did nothing to take away my disappointment at their play and the notion that they won't get very far in a group that included the likes of France, South Africa and possible surprise act Uruguay. Holland's second half play didn't impress eiher and although we shouldn't read to much into these games, I cannot shake the idea that the defense didn't convince anyone. A problem rightfully noted by some commenters on my earlier piece as well. It doesn't make much sense making predictions about the actual strength of the defense right now, since we will have to wait and see how it matches up when the going gets tough, but I understand and concur with the general concern that Holland's defence is probably its achilles heel.
Before flying out to South Africa, Holland will play Ghana on Tuesday and Hungary next Saturday. These matches probably won't excite anyone but are a good way to warm up and get ready for the first match against Denmark. I am really looking forward to this match against the Danes by the way. Not only because so many of their guys play in the Dutch league, but more so since I will be in Denmark when the match is played! So, that should provide for some nice little provocation on my side towards my kind Danish colleagues! I am predicting a 3-0 win, the cocky Dutchman that I am.
In any case, we will probably marvel the world straight away, build our hopes up fast and be heartbroken just as quickly by yet another devastating loss in the great 'Dutch Tradition of Underwhelming Performances'. Such is the fate of the greatest football nation to have never won a World Cup. To think that we will actually win it this year is far beyond any sane man's limits of possibility. But we deserve it though. I may even go so far as to say we deserve it more than any other country in this great cradle of mankind. The English may be waiting for it for 44 years now, but they are former world champions nonetheless. So that really doesn't count. In fact, what are those guys complaining about really? You are wearing that golden star on your shirt right?
If you have had the eternal honour of rightfully naming yourselves World Champions then what does all that happens after that really matter? How can you say that you yearn for the title if you have already won one, if you are already in that holy list of 'World Champions'. Honoustly, what do all those Brazilian titles mean to anyone? They've won it five times right? Who cares? They won it in 1958 for the first time and that is all that matters. If you want more when you already have five stars parading that yellow jersey of yours, go take a pill and have a reality check. This is not to disrespect Brazil or any other competing nation that has already won it before. They still can lay a legitimate claim on the title. By all means, try and win it again. My point is very simple in that I believe any additional World Cup win following on a previous one to become increasingly redundant. Sure, their will be generations of people who have never actually seen their country win it, but at least they can find comfort in the knowledge that they won it once. It is this type of comfort that Holland but also Spain and maybe even Russia, lack entirely. If Holland wins it this year than I will be perfectly fine with anything that happens after that. Just let us win this one, give us that star, add us to that list and we can lay the demon to rest. I will never ever complain about bad luck anymore and although I will still be disappointed when we lose a match after the title win, the hurt won't compare. I will gladly take in the complements on Holland's magnificent play, just as I do now, but with one big difference: we would have already won it once: 'yeah you're right, we played some fantastic football'. 'Yeah, we probably deserved to win the whole thing and its a shame indeed'. 'Wait, let me just kiss that star on our shirt for good luck charm, there you go, that's better'.