Team profile – the netherlands (group c)

After finishing fourth at France 98, the Netherlands failed to reach Asia’s first finals after being thwarted in qualifying Group 2 by Portugal and the Republic of Ireland. It was a devastating blow for a nation rich in football tradition and sumptuous talent, and a memory the current crop of Oranje stars will be looking to erase at Germany 2006.

The Dutch team’s greatest moments were back in the 1970s. Under coach Rinus Michels, they finished runners-up in the 1974 World Cup as a team boasting the great Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens lost 2-1 to the hosts Germany. Four years later in Argentina they made it to the final again, losing out 3-1 to the host country in Buenos Aires to become the first back-to-back runners-up.

As reigning European champions, the Netherlands looked set for glory at Italia 90, but despite the presence of international stars such as Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten, they came unstuck in the second round against a Germany side who went on to become world champions.

As they prepare for their first World Cup since reaching the last four at France 98, the Dutch can point to some impressive results in qualifying. Former star striker van Basten has

rejuvenated the national squad since replacing the experienced Dick Advocaat following the Netherlands’ semi-final exit at UEFA EURO 2004.

It has to be said that in international stars of the calibre of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edwin van der Sar and captain Phillip Cocu, van Basten possessed an almost cast-iron insurance policy. Consequently, he was able to gently introduce a new generation featuring the likes of Dirk Kuyt and Hedwiges Maduro, in addition to using the maturing talents of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart.

Highly impressive as a unit, the Dutch now want to demonstrate their formidable qualities at the highest level. Well in advance of the short trip to Germany, van Basten has already nailed his colours to the mast: the Netherlands will be going for gold. No doubt he will seek inspiration from the stunning performance of Johan Cruyff’s ‘Clockwork Orange’ at the 1974 finals which, incidentally, were also held on German soil.

WC participations: 7 (1934, 1938, 1974, 1978, 1990, 1994, ’98)

WC honours: Runners-up (1974, 1978)

Continental Titles: European champions (1988)

Slogan: Oranje on the road to gold