x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Holland hoping for pointers

To be reminded of glorious failures in the World Cup must be painful, but it comes with the territory as a Holland international.

Wesley Sneijder is a key to Holland's World Cup ambitions, but the midfielder may not get enough match time at Real Madrid.
Wesley Sneijder is a key to Holland's World Cup ambitions, but the midfielder may not get enough match time at Real Madrid.

To be reminded of glorious failures in the World Cup must be painful, but it comes with the territory as a Holland international. The nearly men. The men who would be kings. The references go back more than 30 years when highlighting how the Oranje have come so near, but so far to glory in the biggest competition of all. Few will forget, or ignore, 1974 or 1978 when they were beaten in the final by West Germany and then a Mario Kempes-inspired Argentina. Having become the first European team to qualify for next year's finals with seven wins out of seven in the group stage, they have 10 months in which to ensure the team stay at their peak in South Africa.

Had the tournament been held this summer, the in-form Dutch would have been among the favourites as Bert van Marwijk has shaped a solid all-round unit. They will put those credentials to the test against England tonight in Amsterdam. But as the pressure builds, a lot can happen before next June and there are worries over the lack of first-team action for many of their side, particularly their dynamic duo in midfield.

When Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart teamed up at Real Madrid this time last year, it was seen as a perfect alliance to benefit club and country. It has not worked out like that though, with the duo, and Arjen Robben, now fearing for their futures at the Bernabeu following the arrival of Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso. The striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has already left them to join AC Milan and Ruud Krol feels walk-on parts for Sneijder and van der Vaart in the Real side this season will not augur well for his countrymen.

Former Dutch international Krol, who coaches the Orlando Pirates in South Africa, hopes van Marwijk's side will not be burdened by the past when they come to the Rainbow Nation. "Every time we talk about Holland as possible winners," he says. "But it never happens. Maybe this time I hope it will. They have a chance and have shown their quality by already qualifying. "But many of the best players for Holland are outside the country now and that is not always ideal.

"I like Sneijder and van der Vaart in midfield, but they need to play regularly for their clubs to make sure they are in form. They are important for Holland. You also need luck to win a World Cup; it's not always the best team that wins." That is something he and the Dutch know only too well - and so do their opponents tonight. Despite success in 1966, England will feel the same following a catalogue of near-misses. Even without Steven Gerrard, who has a groin worry, Fabio Capello is looking for England to maintain momentum.

Their resurgence under the Italian coach has seen them achieve a perfect qualifying record with a finals place beckoning. They have lost just one of their last 10 games and that was a friendly against the European champions Spain. While this friendly may be futile in terms of the result, it will be another opportunity for Capello and van Marwijk towards getting things just right for South Africa.

akhan@thenational.ae