Netherlands riding the Wave
Dedicated fans hoping for a change in their team's fate ... or else, Heartbreak City
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
Will The Orange Wave leave its fans feeling blue again?
The 23-men decked out in those famous tangerine Netherlands jerseys certainly hope that isn't the case.
But when you are known as arguably the most underachieving team in recent World Cup history, you can expect plenty of cynicism to be hovering over you in South Africa.
Make no mistake, when it comes to rabid support, the Netherlands is second to none.
Despite having a relatively modest population of 16.5 million, the fanatical backing shown by the Dutch public for their national squad rivals any on the planet.
Sure enough, when Arjen Robben and his teammates take to the pitch at Soccer City Stadium, June 14, for their World Cup curtain raiser against Denmark, fans of the Netherlands squad will be glued to television screens in the quaint riverside cafes sprinkled throughout Amsterdam.
They'll be doing the same at Betty's on King St. in Toronto, which served as a local watering hole for Dutch fans during Euro 2008.
And you can bet the Orange Army will be out in full force in Johannesburg for their team's opener.
Based on recent history, Dutch supporters can expect two things:
1) They'll see a team with arguably the most exciting style in the tournament.
2) At some point, their high hopes will be crushed ... pancaked ... destroyed. It will be Heartbreak City, baby!
Such has been the albatross dangling around the neck of Dutch players and their fans whenever the World Cup comes around.
For almost four decades, the Dutch team has featured some of the most talented players ever to have laced up a set of cleats in this tournament.
Johan Cruyff. Ruud Gullit. Frank Rijkaard. Ronald Koeman. Marco Van Basten. Edgar Davids. Patrick Kleivert. The list of big names goes on and on. Yet when it comes to capturing soccer's biggest prize, those flashy orange uniforms have never stepped up to the podium to be awarded the World Cup trophy.
Like we said ... Heartbreak City.
That was the case at Euro 2008. The Netherlands out-scored their opponents, 9-1, en route to first-round victories over Italy, France and Romania. They were the class of the tournament ... until dropping a crushing, 3-1, decision to Russia in the next round, sending them home.
Despite all the gloom and doom, there easily is enough talent here to make a deep run in South Africa.
"We know we can beat every country and when you know that, you go to the World Cup to win it, not just to try to win one or two games," Netherlands manager Bert Van Marwijk said.
Confident words. Some might even say arrogant words.
No surprise there. As the great Cruyff once said, Dutch players have "a kind of arrogance."
They're good. They know they're good. And they're not afraid to flaunt it.
This edition of The Orange Wave might be as good as any team in the tournament.
Whether it be left back Giovanni Van Bronkhorst, midfielders Wesley Sneijder and Marc Van Bommel or strikers Dirk Kuyt, Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie, there is no shortage of world class skill on this side. Putting the ball in the net should not be a problem; the key will be keeping it out.
There is reason to be excited. Holland's qualifying campaign featured eight consecutive victories, a span in which they out-scored the opposition, 17-2.
Thanks to such dominance, Holland was the first European nation to qualify for South Africa 2010. Supporters only hope The Orange Wave will be the last team standing when all is said and done.
In the past, that has simply been too much to ask.