Dutch do enough to advance
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
Arjen Robben (left) celebrates his goal with teammate Dirk Kuyt against Slovakia at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Monday. (REUTERS/Jerry Lampen)
DURBAN -- The good news for fans of the Netherlands is that the Oranje managed to beat a pesky Slovakia side 2-1 Monday and move on to the quarterfinals.
The bad news was it didn't look very good doing it.
What may be more troubling were little signs which have haunted the Dutch in the past -- egos and lack of cohesion might rear their ugly heads again.
The skill of the Dutch has never been questioned. This generation of players has always had wonderful starts to tournaments. They were outstanding in the European championships until for some reason everything seemmed to fall apart.
It turns out there is often squabbling among its players and complaints about seeing the ball enough and playing time. So far, none of that has been troubling the Dutch and as a result, they've been having little trouble at this World Cup.
But against Slovakia, Arjen Robben was back in the starting lineup for the first time since an injury before the World Cup. Could he coexist with the other stars in the lineup, players such as Wesley Sneijder and Robin Van Persie?
When he's in the lineup, he demands the ball a great deal and for good reason. He is the guy who will ultimately carry the biggest responsibility for how well the team does. But he does have an edge. Several times during the game he was obviously upset when he called for the ball and it went elsewhere.
Robben didn't mind telling his teammates he didn't appreciate not getting the ball. In one instance, he made a flick pass to teammate Mark Van Bommel without looking and Van Bommel remained standing still. The ball went out of bounds and Robben pointed to the spot indicating that's where Van Bommel needed to be.
Then with 10 minutes left in the game, Dutch coach Bert Van Marwijk substituted Van Persie. Van Persie looked like he didn't believe it and slowly walked to the sidelines gesticulating with his finger. He was openly upset with Van Marwijk as the two had an animated conversation. It didn't appease Van Persie.
He sat on the bench and tossed a few things around.
"Robin was a bit disappointed that I replaced him," Van Marwijk said. "That's why he reacted like that. I don't blame him for his reaction though and I'm absolutely not angry."
The Netherlands has the ability to challenge for the World Cup only if they are able to come at this tournament in a united front.
On the field, the 2-1 win against Slovakia showed little that teams such as Brazil, Germany or Argentina would worry about.
It was uninspiring and boring. With Slovakia having nine men behind the ball, the Dutch couldn't produce a lot of chances.
Robben on a perfect shot in the first half and a late second-half goal by Sneijder was all the Dutch needed. Slovakia's Robert Vittek converted a last-kick penalty for his team's goal.
But Holland was exposed several times in the second half when Slovakia had to come forward. Goaltender Maarten Stekelenburg came up with with a couple of big saves to avoid embarrassment for the Dutch.
So now the Dutch will get the opportunity to prove they are the real deal. They will take on Brazil in the quarter-final. In the past, the Dutch have failed to establish themselves against the top team in the world, at least when the big prizes were at stake.
While the Dutch weren't great on Monday, Robben got a game under his belt. They will be facing a Brazil team that, despite a 3-0 win over Chile, has not been overly impressive. It's a team that lacks the flash and dash of most Brazilian teams.
If there's a time for the Dutch to win a big contest, this is the time. They will have to play much better football than they did Monday but the potential is there;
And if they manage to pull it off, it will do more than just eliminate Brazil. It will instill in the Dutch great confidence, a confidence they will have earned, not just talked about.