Dutch favor substance over style
By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - This was not a Dutch team that the legendary Johan Cruyff would recognize, but it is a team that has a real chance to advance to the World Cup final for the first time since 1978.
The Dutch have moved into the semifinals, courtesy of their 2-1 victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals on Friday.
It was Cruyff, along with teammates like Johan Neeskens and Johnny Rep, who brought a true sense of grace and style to Dutch football in the 1970s as practitioners of the famed "Total Football."
The concept was introduced by Rinus Michels, who first put it into place with Ajax and later with the Dutch national team.
Total Football is a tactical theory in which any outfield player, besides the goalkeeper, can play the role of any other player on the team.
It essentially produces well-rounded players and a free-flowing style that is easy on the eyes, but it has never produced a World Cup title.
The concept was used by the Dutch team in the 1974 World Cup with great success, and although it coasted to the final with impressive wins over both Argentina and Brazil, it lost to an inferior West German side, 2-1.
The Germans have developed a reputation over the years for being incredibly strong mentally, which has a way of leading them to victory even when they are not the more talented team.
Likewise, the Dutch are always fun to watch, but they have a way of coming up short in the biggest games and appear more interested in entertaining than actually winning.
Euro 2008 was a perfect example as the Oranje easily won their group with crushing wins over Italy, France and Romania, and they were clearly the most impressive team in the tournament.
But as they have so many other times, the Dutch fell flat in their first knockout-round match, losing to Russia in extra time.
However, this World Cup has seen a shift in approach for manager Bert van Marwijk's team.
The Netherlands failed to excite or entertain in each of its first three group matches, while a 2-1 win in the round of 16 against Slovakia also didn't get the pulse racing.
But all four of those games ended in Dutch victories, as did Friday's rally past favored Brazil in the quarterfinals.
The South Americans were playing their European counterparts off the field in the first half, but a few key saves from goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg allowed the Dutch to stay in the match, and they turned the situation around in the second half with the help of an own goal.
After that, the Brazilians came apart and the Dutch found another goal midway through the half to claim the win, thanks in large part to their mental strength.
It is hard to believe that a Dutch team would be capable of winning a match like that, but according to Van Marwijk, a change in approach is necessary in today's game.
"I know the Brazilian team played beautiful football ... so did the Dutch, but there is no more space for 'total' or 'samba' football these days," Van Marwijk said in a news conference prior to the Brazil match.
"The sport has changed and everything goes faster. Players are fitter and teams better organized so you can't display that sort of football any longer at a World Cup."
While the game has changed and teams have been forced to adjust accordingly, it didn't keep Cruyff from taking a jab at the Brazilian side, which has been criticized heavily in its home country for playing with a lack of flair.
"Where has the Brazil team we all know disappeared to in this World Cup?" Cruyff told the Daily Mirror of London. "I look at this team and I remember people like Gerson, Tostao, Falcao, Zico or Socrates. Now I only see Gilberto, Melo, Bastos, Julio Baptista.
"Where is the Brazilian magic? I could understand why Dunga has picked some players, but where is the playmaker or skill in midfield? I don't think any spectator would pay to watch them. I would never pay for a ticket."
It is fair to wonder whether Cruyff would pay to watch his countrymen, not that he has to worry about that, because their style is even less appealing than that of Brazil.
The only thing graceful or elegant in the first half of Friday's win was Dutch winger Arjen Robben artfully flinging himself through the air after an opposing player breathed on him heavily.
In truth, there were too many giveaways in midfield, not enough quality build- ups and way too many theatrics to please fans who are used to seeing the orange-clad Dutch put on a show.
But they are now just two wins away from delivering something that Cruyff and company never did - a World Cup.
If you ask me, that sounds pretty beautiful.
07/02 13:52:28 ET