Netherlands

Population: 16,700,000 (UN 2012)

Area: 41,864 sq km

Capital: Amsterdam

Currency: Euro

Federation: Koninklijke nederlandsche Voetbalbond (KNVB – Royal football Federation of the Netherlands) founded in 1889, affiliated to FIFA in 1904 and to UEFA in 1954

Registered players: 1,140,000

Kit colours: Orange shirts, white shorts, orange socks

Team nickname: Clockwork Orange

World Cup record: Finalists (1974, 1978, 2010), semi-finalists (1998), quarter-finals (1994), second round (1990, 2006), first round (1934, 1938)

European championship appearances: 9 (1976, 1980, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012)

European championship record: winners (1988), 3rd (1976), semi-finalists (1992, 2000, 2004), quarter-finalists (1996, 2008), first round (1980, 2012)

How they qualified for FIFA World Cup 2014: Won Europe zone group D with 28pts ahead of Romania (19), Hungary (17), Turkey (16), Estonia (7) and Andorra (0), 9 wins, 1 draw, no defeats, 34 goals for and 5 against

Top clubs: Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven

After losing World Cup finals in 1974, 1978 and then more recently at South Africa 2010 the Netherlands, inventors of ‘Total Football’ have once again sailed through qualification and look well capable of breaking their hoodoo.

It must be remembered that Holland were beaten three times in the group stage at Euro 2012 after qualifying brilliantly. But then they had old foes Portugal and Germany to deal with after a shock loss to Denmark.

Coach Louis van Gaal, who has managed Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, is seeking to overcome the hurt of his previous stint in the national dugout, that calamitous non-qualification for the 2002 World Cup.

But this team looks very different to the last one with the defensive trio of Daryl Janmaat, Stefan De Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi having an average age of 22.

And the forwards, despite their advancing years, strike fear into opposition hearts with Robin van Persie (Manchester United), Wesley Sneijder (Galatarasay) and Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich) all keen to make up for previous disappointments.

They also boast strikers Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke 04) and Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbah├že).

Generations of gifted Dutch players have tried and failed despite producing exciting, attractive football. The Netherlands did however win the 1988 European Championships when a side featuring Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman and Frank Rijkaard conquered the continent in Germany.

Even the legendary Johan Cruyff, a three-time European player of the year couldn’t carry the Dutch over the World Cup winners line despite coming agonisingly close in 1974 when they crashed in the final to hosts West Germany.

The Netherlands totally cruised through qualifying, banging home 24 goals and making the cut with two games to spare way ahead of Turkey, Romania and Hungary.

But the potential the Dutch seem to nurture for self-destruction looks to be alive and kicking. Chiefly in the bloody-minded modus operandi of the coach Luis Van Gaal.

The coach stripped Wesley Sneijder of the captaincy and handed it to Robin van Persie, and has said he prefers a youngster ready to bust a gut that a top player ready to rest on his laurels.

Shaking up the system by creating competition between your biggest egos looks a risky strategy, but taking over after Bert van Marwijk’s Euro 2012 meltdown meant Van Gaal had to make some kind of statement.

In the centre of his defence Feyenoord pair de Vrij and Martins Indi are promising, but are untested against the very best. But they do have two top ‘keepers in Tim Krul and Michel Vorm.

The Dutch may well go deep into the competition again, but they have drawn Spain and Chile, and they will need to hang on to their egos too.

AFP

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