Johannesburg Netherlands coach Bert Van Marwijk admits his team doesn’t play with the beauty of World Cup final opponent Spain.
Otherwise, he says, the two can go head-to-head.
When Van Marwijk looks at Spain, he sees the world’s best team of the past few years — and the fluid playing style of a Barcelona squad that has been the bane of clubs all over Europe.
“We play well. Spain plays well, but they are more attractive and this is where we want to get too,” Van Marwijk told reporters Thursday.
Van Marwijk said his team needs to tighten its defense in front of goal to counter Spain during Sunday’s final at Soccer City, while on offense he has the fearsome trio of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie at his disposal.
Sneijder, tied for top scorer at the World Cup with five goals, said the team has to show more “guts” when it has the ball, seeking quicker attacks instead of the steady, building style the Dutch have been known over the past weeks.
“We have to shed our inhibitions,” Sneijder said.
The sudden sparkle of a finishing touch and a resurgent Van Persie could be enough to bring the cup to the Netherlands for the first time.
Told that Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt was quoted saying that the Spaniards are a collection of individuals while the Dutch are a “team”, Van Marwijk quickly countered by saying how impressive it was to see all of Spain immediately start pressuring opponents once they had lost possession.
“When they lose the ball, they immediately join in, their big stars too,” Van Marwijk said. “It is something we also do well.”
Even though Spain started out with a loss against Switzerland, while the Dutch are undefeated in South Africa, Van Marwijk said the reigning European champs were still more efficient.
Often the Netherlands has won by only one goal, when a better finishing touch in front of goal could have turned the game into a rout. Against Uruguay in the semifinal, the Dutch won 3-2 but could have put the game beyond doubt much earlier had the forwards shown more poise.
“We have been messy. We’ve had spells with brilliant attacks, yet we forgot to score,” Van Marwijk said. “That though, can change within a match.”
That’s where Van Persie comes in.
The striker, who plays his club soccer for Arsenal, was out for much of the season with a right ankle injury which needed surgery and he is still seeking his best form.
“He improved the last game,” Van Marwijk said. “He will play his best game in the final.”
Sneijder said if the Netherlands could finish more effectively, it has a chance. Spain, too, has had its weak moments, especially when it struggled to get past Paraguay in the quarterfinals. “It was not a pretty sight,” he said.
The Inter Milan playmaker noted the Dutch have a chance to make a perfect run through qualifying for the World Cup and the tournament itself.
“We won every qualifying game, every game here,” Sneijder said. “We are not going to allow that Spain beats us now.”