Dutch learn to win ugly at the World Cup

DURBAN— The Netherlands is known for its beautiful football. And for never winning football’s biggest tournament.

By (AP)

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Sun 20 Jun 2010, 10:06 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 4:15 AM

At this World Cup, the Dutch may shed both reputations.

Pragmatic coach Bert van Marwijk’s talented team has shown it can win ugly — recording a 1-0 win over Japan on Saturday after a scratchy 2-0 victory over Denmark in its opening game. that was enough to make the Netherlands the first team to book a place in the round of 16, with a game to spare.

Van Marwijk said the result justified the style of play after his team dominated possession but was prevented from creating clear-cut chances for much of the match by Japan’s fast, aggressive defense.

“Why do we focus on good football instead of winning?” Van Marwijk said. “Let me assure you that we really, really want to win and if we can do that in style then great. But you have to be able to win ugly games.”

Expectations were high for the Netherlands coming into the World Cup. The team beat World Cup-bound Ghana 4-1 and thrashed Hungary 6-1 in warm up matches dominated by the kind of fast, fluid passing moves that left fans gasping in admiration.

“Our game was not as attractive against Ghana and Hungary,” Van Marwijk conceded. “But its harder to win games here.”

Forward Dirk Kuyt agreed with his coach’s assessment.

“This is a tournament of the 32 best teams in the world. It’s not easy,” he said. “There are countries here with nothing to lose and they play the matches of their lives to show off their play on the biggest stage.”

Dutch teams of the 1970s played the sort of flowing “total football” beloved by fans the world over. But they fell agonizingly short of lifting the World Cup in 1974 and 1978, beaten by hosts Germany and Argentina in the finals.

The only major prize in the Dutch trophy cabinet came in 1988 when a team featuring stars such as Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard — but also defensive enforcers like Ronald Koeman and Jan Wouters — won the European Championship.

Van Marwijk’s team has an equally influential trio in the form of Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and Robin van Persie. But it, too, has a backbone provided by the likes of Kuyt and Mark van Bommel who make up with hard work what they may lack in creative flair.

They have helped grind out two tough wins so far in South Africa — with Kuyt scoring the second goal against Denmark.

Midfielder Nigel de Jong told the official Dutch fans’ website that the team’s style of play comes from the bitter experience of playing well and not winning.

“We’re all Dutch footballers. We all want to play beautifully,” he said. “I still have the feeling we have to, but our experience at major tournaments shows you have to play carefully.”

Kuyt bristled Saturday when asked about the Dutch winning not-so-attractive matches.

“So you think this was an ugly game?” he asked a reporter with a smile.

“Japan and Denmark are really tough defensive teams, they work really hard to get a result and we just try to win the game,” he added. “We controlled the game, we’ve been patient and after the first goal we had one or two chances to get another one. We should have finished it off.”

Van Marwijk likes his teams to play attractive football, but he insists they do it from a rock-solid foundation of dominating possession and then stay patient until they finally find a chink in their opponents’ armor.

“With some people, all they expect is beautiful football and a 5-0 score at half time,” Van Marwijk said. “But it just isn’t always that way at the World Cup. Sometimes you have to wait for a goal.”

And the star who rewarded Dutch patience with his 53rd-minute strike was happy with the team’s return so far at the World Cup.

“It’s an excellent result to have two wins from two games,” Sneijder said. “So we’ve done a good job.”

More news from