Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 30 October 2014

Holland coach van Marwijk keeping Dutch squad united

Holland manager Bert van Marwijk has managed to keep the Dutch squad united

Bert van Marwijk is not the most high-profile coach at South Africa 2010, but so far he has achieved what more famous Dutch names in recent times have failed to do.

He has taken Holland to the semi-finals of the World Cup without any rows, backbiting or scandals.

There has been the occasional fiery glance from Robin van Persie and the odd exchange of opinion when the Arsenal striker has been substituted.

But in the main the Dutch team which faces Uruguay tomorrow night at the Green Point Stadium for a place in the World Cup final have all been singing from the same sheet.

Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst talks about "hunger" and "belief", while Everton defender Johnny Heitinga says: "If you want to win a title the most important thing is you have to be a team and fight for each other. It doesn't matter if someone makes a mistake, you have to cover his back. You have to put your ego away."

So far that is exactly what appears to be happening with a Dutch team who won all eight of their matches in qualifying and have won all five matches here in South Africa, including fighting back from a goal down to beat Brazil 2-1 in the quarter finals.

Both goals came from Wesley Sneijder, the second a fine header. He is not the only Dutchman using his head at this World Cup.

Let's face it, in the past Dutch feuds have been as inevitable as tax in your pay packet.

Ruud Gullit and Dick Advocaat famously fell out before the World Cup in 1994. Edgar Davids and Guus Hiddink likewise at Euro 1996.

Whenever Holland come together for a major tournament, metaphorically it seems there is blood on the walls.

Van Marwijk, however, appears to have convinced his biggest stars to patch up their wounds, or at least apply a sticking plaster for the duration of the tournament.

No easy task that, especially when Sneijder and Van Persie, arguably Holland's most influential players, came into this competition on the back of a two-year dispute.

It emanated from a training clash plus a row over who should take Holland's free kicks, dating back to Euro 2008 when Holland were knocked out 3-1 after extra time in the quarter-finals by Russia. In the latter stages Van Persie took a free kick which Sneijder believed was assigned to him.

A petty spat, but public sniping in the media between the two made matters worse and the pair have barely spoken since. Yet the team do not seem to have suffered.

Much of that is down to Van Marwijk, the 57-year-old who won the 2002 Uefa Cup with Feyenoord and has shown himself to be a master pragmatist.

Under his reign Mark van Bommel was restored to the squad having excluded himself under Marco Van Basten.

In fact, the only controversy in Holland's build-up was when Van Marwijk banned his players from posting on Twitter after winger Eljero Elia streamed a video of himself playing a computer game with Ryan Babel and making comments which appeared to insult Moroccans. Elia issued an apology.

But it is the well-being of Sneijder which is most important.

If Van Persie provides the fire power and Arjen Robben the touch of unpredictability which all sides need then Sneijder is the orchestrator.

He is the creator, the supreme passer, the man who inspired Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan side to Serie A and Champions League glory in May.

More importantly Sneijder, the man who already has scored four of Holland's nine goals at this World Cup has delivered at a tournament where Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi have disappointed.

It is that cutting edge which suggests Holland can reach their first World Cup final since losing to Argentina in 1978 amid the 'Total Football' era which made the Orange army such a vibrant force.

Chances are they will beat Uruguay, a solid side but one lacking true all-round quality, by two clear goals.

If so it will be Van Marwijk's triumph. A victory for harmony.

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