The Netherlands: Fragile BalletBy: Juan Mesa
HOW DID THEY GET HERE: The Flying Dutchman honored their nickname after sweeping rivals in Group D of the European qualifier, topping the table with 28 points (nine victories, one draw). The team is coached by Louis van Gaal, who failed to qualify to the Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup during his first tenure with the team.
BIGGEST STRENGTH: When Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie connect on the pitch, the Dutch have nothing short of a soccer ballet troupe. The trio, rich in skills, comes to Brazil fully matured. Coach van Gaal improved the defense by promoting some youngsters from Feyenoord, which has made the team look even more solid than four years ago, when they lost against Spain in the final match.
BIGGEST WEAKNESS: Anytime the Netherlands travel to a World Cup, they do it with the “FRAGILE” label. The players, especially the most talented, are historically prone to injuries, which leads some to believe they are made out of crystal. But that frailty also shows in the inside: the team has a hard time keeping morale up when it’s hit first, or loses an early advantage.
WORLD CUP CHANCES: The Netherlands sort of surprised everybody when they reached the final in South Africa 2010. The feat can be done again, especially with van Gaal in charge, but facing Chile and Spain in Group B means hard work—and if they come in second, they will probably face Brazil, the favorite to win Group A, in the Round of 16. The path is thorny.
FUN FACT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Losing three finals—1974, 1978 and 2010—is more than enough disappointment for any team in the World Cup, but the Dutch’s list is longer. The Orange went to Italy 1990 as one of the favorites by having A.C. Milan’s—the world’s best club at that time— golden trio of Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten on the roster. But they qualified to the Round of 16 as a best third place (they only tied against England, Egypt and Ireland), and then they lost against future champion West Germany 2-1. Not only did they go home without victories, but striker van Basten, who got there with two Golden Boots, did not score a single goal in the tournament.
IF THEY WERE A SONG, IT WOULD BE: “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” by U2.