Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Dutch ready to play smart game


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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — No style points. Winning is what matters.
After losing in their two previous trips to the World Cup final, the Netherlands is determined not to let its flashy play get ahead of going home with the big prize.
“We know we can play football,” Dutch captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst said. “To be mentally strong is now most important.”
The Netherlands reached the 1974 and ’78 finals with some of soccer’s greatest players, but each time the host nation — West Germany and then Argentina — beat Oranje teams with a reputation for overconfidence.
After Tuesday’s 3-2 semifinal win over Uruguay, coach Bert van Marwijk is determined to make sure that his team’s 10-game winning streak — including six at this tournament — does not create the same problem.
Van Marwijk’s memories of the 1974 tournament, when the Dutch thrilled the world only to fall 2-1 to the Germans, are too strong for him to let his players fall to the same weakness.
“Often when we start beating people, we become overly confident and then we are sent home,” Van Marwijk said. “We did lose the match whereas we should have won it because we played wonderfully well.
Dutch great “Johan Cruyff was the best football player that ever existed.”
The Netherlands could face Germany in the final — or Spain, depending on the outcome of Wednesday’s semifinal.
Assistant coach Frank de Boer was a defender in 1998 when the Dutch last reached the semifinals — only to be eliminated by Brazil in a penalty shootout. He says the character of the Dutch team has changed over the years.
“In ’98, we were happy just to get in the semis and could play Brazil,” he said.
He noticed the same attitude among the Uruguay players Tuesday night and felt a win was coming from the moment the Netherlands players first stepped on the field.
“Let me give you a small example: I knew we’d win when a saw a half dozen of their players come onto the field with their cameras — and I am talking starting lineup players. They filmed the stadium, filmed the players.”
“Then I knew our approach was much better,” De Boer said. “That is why it is important to keep that focus.”
The Dutch coaches have the support of a talented group of players who would love nothing better than flaunt their skills.
Striker Robin van Persie said the team won’t get carried away by an occasion marked by fans back home painting villages and cities orange in honor of the Dutch jersey color.
“I will only realize it looking back,” Van Persie said. “Now I have this tunnel vision, and you just do what you have to do.”
Forward Dirk Kuyt knows how bad it is to lose a final after falling to AC Milan while he played for Liverpool in the 2007 Champions League.
“I was there and I know what it is,” Kuyt said. “It is not going to happen to me a second time.”


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