To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.Today, we get to one of the typical favorites who typically finds a way to fall short.
The NetherlandsGroup E THE BASICS
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Orange, White and Blue
•How They Got Here:
Rolled through their European qualifying group with Scotland and Norway undefeated and untied, allowing only 2 goals
•World Cup Pedigree: 8 World Cups ('34, '38, '74, '78, '90, '94, '98, '06), runners-up twice, fourth place once THE PLOT
Is this finally the year that the Dutch finally finds a way to climb over their mountain of angst and failure and claim their throne amongst the world's footballing elite? Or do they step on a rake ... again?THE DIRECTOR
Bert van Marwijk
A virtual unknown outside of Holland, the former Feyenoord coach had the team strolling through qualifying. But that's pretty typical for the Dutch. Can he manage the talent and help this team realize their talent?LEADING MAN
The Bayern Munich playmaker is in sublime form heading into this weekend's Champions League final. It should carry him well into the World Cup, where he'll lead a completely stacked Dutch squad. Seriously, I could've put at least five other players in this space and been justified. I think what lifts Robben slightly above the rest is that he'll be the primary focus of the attack for this team. He can shoot from distance, he can beat just about anyone one-v-one and has a knack for slipping clever passes into tight spaces. Also: Looks like he's 50.SUPPORTING CAST
(midfielder, Inter Milan) andRafael Van der Vaart
(midfielder, Real Madrid) are both extraordinarily gifted midfielders who will orchestrate the game from the middle, the only problem is that both tend to drift away from big games;Robin Van Persie
(forward, Arsenal) is as good as anyone in the world when healthy, which has always been the knock on him (he missed almost five months this past season with an ankle injury);Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
(forward, AC Milan) usually finds himself in a big-name team's shopping cart every other year, but has never realized his full potential and is a questionable finisher;Giovanni van Bronckhorst
(fullback, Feyenoord) is the team's captain and best support player;John Heitinga
(defender, Everton) is part of the surprisingly sturdy and very physical Dutch defense;Maarten Stekelenburg
(goalkeeper, Ajax) will attempt to replace retired super goalie Edwin van der Sar.LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR
It will be difficult for anyone to crack into this lineup in the attacking third, but the Hamburg winger can immediately produce goals. He's one of three very talented and very young Dutch players looking to make a name at this tournament. Keep your eyes on Moroccan-born Ibrahim Afellay (midfielder, PSV Eindhoven) and Gregory Van Der Wiel (fullback, Ajax).THE LIKELY VILLAIN
van Bronckhorst PRODUCTION NOTES
Second only to the Brazilians when it comes to beautiful football, expect to see a 4-2-3-1 with the dangerous trio of Robben, van Persie and Sneijder behind Huntelaar with surging play by the fullbacks. The two defensive midfielders will stay at home and help cover the back.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
IT'S SORTA LIKE...
Slick. Fast-paced. Lots of style. Interesting subplots. And, at every step of the way, there's some kind of revenge dream for the Dutch to play out (whether it's showing Brazil they do it better in the quarterfinals, England who's boss in the semis and, gasp, possibly the Germans in the finals).TRAILER
DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
The Dutch are, on average, the tallest people in Europe.CRITICAL BLURBS
Perhaps the greatest team to never have won a World Cup (the Johan Cruyff-led teams in the '70s and the Frank Rijkaard/Marco van Basten/Ruud Gullit/Dennis Bergkamp teams in the the late '80s, early '90s). ... The Dutch rolled through qualifying, but, of course, they always do that. ... They will be one of, if not they, most enjoyable team to watch this World Cup. ... The draw is slightly unfavorable for them, as they'd have to get past Brazil to get to the semifinals, but if anyone can beat Brazil this year, it's the Dutch. ...Best-case scenario?
An undefeated tournament, hoisting the country's first World Cup trophy. ...Realistic prediction?
Toss a coin between them and Brazil making the semifinals, with Brazil the more likely to avoid choking.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
You know that there's some Charlie Kaufman-stuff going on if this happens: Sunday, July 11. Johannesburg. The fans are going crazy for the Brilliant Oranje (South Africa is a huge Dutch vacation spot) who have beaten Brazil and England to get to this point. At the other end of the field is the dreaded Germans and their black shirts (who got here by getting through Argentina and Spain). Flashes of '74 when the gritty Germans out-muscled the Dutch and the '90 World Cup spitting incident. The Dutch have always measured themselves (and come up short) when facing their neighbors and one-time oppressors. This would make Uma Thurman's revenge in "Kill Bill" seem like an episode of "That's So Raven." (OK, that's an analogy that went too far. But you have to think the he Dutch would be absolutely apoplectic if this happens.)
Group A: South Africa
Group B: South Korea
Group C: Algeria
Group D: Serbia
Group E: Japan
New Zealand, Slovakia, Paraguay, Italy
North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil
Honduras, Chile, Switzerland, Spain
Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook