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Last Updated: Friday, 19 May 2006, 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK
Dutch masters?
By Paul Fletcher and Dan Warren

Think of Holland at the World Cup, and Johan Cruyff, 'Total Football' and those famous orange shirts doubtless spring to mind.

Since the 1974 tournament in West Germany, where they lost 2-1 to the hosts in the final, the Dutch have become synonymous with quality football.

But their colourful and vocal support has sometimes been more memorable than the actual team they have been supporting.

Marco van Basten is the man charged with the task of leading Holland this summer in a World Cup on German soil once again.

The Dutch striking legend has not been afraid to wield the axe, excluding established stars like Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Roy Makaay from his 23-man World Cup squad.

But can his mix of youth and experience go one better than the stars of 1974?

BBC Sport spoke to former Dutch midfielder Arnold Muhren, now working with the Ajax youth academy, to run the rule over the latest Holland team.


The Dutch forward line has a familiar look to British football fans.

Ruud van Nistelrooy's scoring exploits for Manchester United have long since marked him as a world-class talent.

Holland striker Dirk Kuyt
Kuyt will have a key role to play up front
Chelsea's Arjen Robben is likely to play on the left in a similar role to the one he fulfils for his club.

Dirk Kuyt may be less familiar, but 51 goals in the past two seasons for Feyenoord explain why Liverpool and Arsenal have been linked with a move for him.

Muhren said: "It's difficult for Van Basten, but in a good way, because there are so many good strikers in Holland at the moment.

"He's tried Kuyt on the right side, but in my opinion, he's more of a central striker.

"You have to fit in Kuyt and Van Nistelrooy. I think Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink of PSV Eindhoven probably won't be a regular player.

"Ryan Babel of Ajax is a good prospect, but he is not playing in the first team at the moment."


When Van Basten excluded Tottenham's Davids and AC Milan's Seedorf from his squad, the Dutch coach was not just laying down a marker in terms of clearing out the old guard.

He was also making a point of favouring players who play in the Netherlands.

1974: Beaten finalists
1978: Beaten finalists
1982: Did not qualify
1986: Did not qualify
1990: Beaten in second round
1994: Beaten quarter-finalists
1998: Beaten semi-finalists
2002: Did not qualify

Four of Van Basten's six midfielders ply their trade in the Dutch first division - although ironically, two of the three who play overseas are likely to start Holland's first game against Serbia and Montenegro on 11 June.

"I think Phillip Cocu from PSV Eindhoven will definitely play in midfield," said Muhren.

"He must make a choice between Mark van Bommel of Barcelona and Denny Landzaat of AZ Alkmaar, and between Rafael van der Vaart of Hamburg and Wesley Sneijder of Ajax. It's difficult to say.

"There has been talk that Van Basten wasn't happy with Van Bommel, but he's playing well for Barcelona and played the last game in Holland.

Van der Vaart has been troubled by an ankle injury, but Muhren believes he could be first choice if fit.

"I think he will play Van Bommel and Van der Vaart," he said.

"Van der Vaart has not lost form in Germany, he's a good young prospect. He's playing very well for Hamburg and has scored some very important goals.

"There is no need for Van Basten to bring Dutch players who are not playing in Holland to the squad because he has a lot of good youngsters playing in Holland.

"I think because these players have done so well in the qualifying games I think he is giving them a chance to perform in Germany."


While Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar needs little introduction to British football fans, the back four in front of him is probably the least familiar area of the Dutch team.

Former Arsenal and Rangers defender Giovanni van Bronckhorst, currently with Barcelona, is likely to fill in at left-back.

But Muhren said he thought Van Basten may opt for the centre-half pairing of Hamburg's Khalid Boulahrouz and Alkmaar's Joris Mathijsen - both relatively unknown in Britain.

Similarly, the likely right-back will be another unfamiliar name, Alkmaar's Kew Jaliens.

"Mathijsen is, I think, a very good player. He's a very good man-to-man marker. Boulahrouz of Hamburg is similar.

"The right full-back is a little bit of a gamble. Jan Kromkamp from Liverpool has done very well, but because he's not playing as a regular in that team, I don't really think he will play on that side.

"Jaliens is playing for Alkmaar in the right full-back position and he's doing well there."


Since becoming Dutch coach in July 2004, Van Basten has made some bold selection choices.

Holland coach Marco van Basten
Van Basten has not been afraid to make changes to his team
But the results have backed his decision to favour youth and home-based players over the experienced stars playing overseas.

Holland were impressive in qualifying, topping the tough Group A ahead of the Czech Republic after going all 12 games unbeaten.

Muhren said Van Basten's chopping and changing of the team had paid off.

"He tried, I think, 40 or 45 players in qualifying to do what, in his opinion was the right thing," he said.

"I think I see the next generation coming through. We've got good players.

"I think we were a little bit lucky in the qualifying games as well. But we've done very well."

But Muhren said he expected Van Basten to make further tactical changes ahead of Holland's first game against Serbia and Montenegro.

"He's going to have a good look at players in certain positions," he said.

"As for Holland's chances, it's difficult to say. In Holland people are very optimistic. It's a case of surviving the first round, which is going to be tough. From then on, anything can happen.

"I think Marco has done well, the results speak for themselves, he's done well in the qualifying games, he's played attractive football for the fans and, hopefully, he can do well in Germany."

Holland team guide
27 Apr 06 |  Holland
World Cup fixtures
09 Dec 05 |  Schedule
Have your say on the World Cup
28 Apr 06 |  Football
BBC World Cup coverage
27 Apr 06 |  BBC coverage

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