Man that matters:
Robin van Persie: European suitors are falling over one another to sign up the current pride of Arsenal – who may soon be the former pride of Arsenal. And why wouldn’t they? The Dutch striker punctuated his remarkable season with a Premier League Player of the Year award. His 41 goals in 53 appearances (in all competitions) kept an otherwise deflated Arsenal season from ever going too dark. Now he brings all that form to the Oranje, winners of the 1988 tournament; van Persie’s ability to finish and to skillfully arrange goals for others could be the difference in just wiggling out of this difficult first-round group.
June 9: vs. Denmark (Kharkiv, Ukraine)
June 13: vs. Germany (Kharkiv, Ukraine)
June 17: vs. Portugal (Kharkiv, Ukraine)
Foursome of knowledge:
- Arjen Robben has as much talent as any winger in the world – any of them this side of Cristiano Ronaldo, at least. When fit and happy, the Bayern man really is a complete attacking package of speed, skill, ideas and audacity. On the other hand, inconsistency, a propensity toward injury and a reputation for diving has diminished the still-young Dutchman’s accomplishments.
- Midfield playmaker Wesley Sneijder was vital in the South African near-miss (the third Dutch loss in a World Cup final) but just completed an absolutely miserable year at Inter Milan. So we’ll see where his mind and spirit land in the Ukraine.
- The Dutch are strong at goalkeeper with Maarten Stekelenburg and Tim Krul in reserve, but the Dutch back has looked better. John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen will be less than overwhelming at center backs. In front of them, Kevin Strootman, PSV Eindhoven’s 22-year-old captain, is pushing de Jong for as the second holding man (alongside Mark van Bommel) in the Dutch alignment.
- Klaas-Jan Huntelaar seems to save his best for work in the national shirt. The Schalke man hit for 12 goals in eight qualifiers, a better rate than the in-form van Persie. Bert van Marwijk’s prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation – but that means having to choose between Huntelaar or van Persie could miss out. Given the Arsenal man’s form, that’s an easy choice, although leaving Huntelaar on the bench would be anything but. Easy, that is. Ibrahim Afellay, Rafael van der Vaart and Dirk Kuyt are among the available surplus of Dutch attacking talent.
Where they are going:
Before that antagonistic, fateful final against Spain in South Africa two summers back, coach Bert van Marwijk’s side had been a model of pragmatic effectiveness. No, it wasn’t the swashbuckling total football of Dutch lore, but it worked. The tricky part is getting out of this up-armored group. Given Sneijder’s season of woe, questions along the back line and the fact that neither de Jong nor van Bommel can dominate with midfield passing, the Dutch are second-tier favorites, although still quite dangerous due to special talents like Robben, Sneijder and van Persie.
Goalkeepers: Maarten Stekelenburg (AS Roma), Michel Vorm (Swansea), Tim Krul (Newcastle).
Defenders: Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Malaga), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord), Wilfred Bouma (PSV Eindhoven), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax), Jetro Willems (PSV Eindhoven).
Midfielders: Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Mark van Bommel (AC Milan), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Stijn Schaars (Sporting Lisbon), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham).
Forwards: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Luuk de Jong (FC Twente), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Luciano Narsingh (Heerenveen), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich).
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