Dutch are tops at underachieving
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
Dutch players celebrate their World Cup quarterfinal victory over Brazil on Friday. (REUTERS/Jerry Lampen)
CAPE TOWN -- They are the Buffalo Bills of world soccer. Only these wannabe champions wear orange.
In the history of the so-called beautiful game, no team has featured more superstars or come closer to winning it all only to repeatedly rip the collective hearts out of its rabid fan base.
They are the Dutch. And they, arguably, are the biggest underachievers the World Cup has ever seen.
The Spanish like to make that claim. Of course, before this year, Spain had never even reached the Final Four of the world's most prestigious tournament. Up until 2010, its supporters knew it was safe to have a siesta come semifinal time because its team would not be in one.
Dutch fans could never make that claim. Back-to-back visits to the championship game in the 1970s brought agony to members of the Orange Nation, knowing they were on the verge of sporting immortality only to be gutted.
It was like watching a Scott Norwood field goal attempt sailing wide right.
In 1974, with the tournament being held in neighbouring Germany, the Johan Cruyff-led Dutch arguably had the most talented team on the planet. And when it scored on a penalty in the championship game's first minute to go up 1-0 before any German player had touched the ball, destiny was in its grasp.
Only they let it slip away. The Germans won 2-1.
Four years later in Argentina, The Netherlands, playing without Cryuff, once again made it to the final, where it scored in the dying minutes of regulation to tie the Argentines 1-1, much to the glee of its backers.
Only the comeback would be wasted. The Argentines scored twice in extra time to win the title 3-1. So excruciatingly close. And yet, so agonizingly far.
In subsequent World Cups, the Dutch fielded as many superstars as any country on the planet not named Brazil.
Edgar Davids. Patrick Kluivert. Frank Rijkaard. Ruud Gullit. Ronald Koeman. Marco Van Basten. Dennis Bergkamp. The list reads like a who's who of world soccer. And yet, none was able to hoist the World Cup trophy. The best The Netherlands was able to do in the past 32 years was a fourth-place finish in France in 1998.
There was a European Championship title in 1988, thanks to a victory over the rival Germans. In NFL terms, it was like winning the AFC championship. Nice accomplishment. But it wasn't the Super Bowl.
Now, the Dutch are just two victories away from healing all the pain they have inflicted on their rabid supporters over the years. A win over Uruguay on Tuesday in their semifinal match at South Africa 2010 will land the Dutch a berth in a World Cup final for the first time in more than three decades.
At his press conference Monday, manager Bert Van Marwijk was peppered with questions about his national team's tainted past; about its tendency to implode in big games; and about how it has come up small when expectations are high.
Like it or not, this Dutch squad is carrying the entire soccer history of the country on its back. For Van Marwijk, it is a weight his team can ably support.
"We have come here for the ultimate prize and, once we achieve it, then we will allow ourselves to enjoy ourselves," the Dutch manager said. "We might be a small country, but we will not allow ourselves to be satisfied or happy just by reaching the final.
"You talk about the past, about how we've never really made it. But in this tournament, we've been proving we can play winning (soccer)."
But can he shed the stereotype that his team is in for a fall?
"I cannot change the culture," he said. "But I've been able to achieve something with this group in that the moment we win a match, we look ahead to what needs to be done to win the next one. In the past, when we won a match, we would become a bit arrogant."
Van Marwijk and his players claim that is not the case any more.
But until they hold that trophy over their heads, they will always be the Buffalo Bills of the soccer world.