Fred de Jong: Total Football is great, but I'll be cheering for Dutch pragmatism


For me, Monday's World Cup final has been 36 years in the making. As a child, I got up with the rest of my family to watch the 1974 final on our old black and white television. Holland were overwhelming favourites that day. They had introduced Total Football to the world and were expected to steamroll West Germany.

Having scored before a German player had touched the ball, the arrogance of the Dutch was their undoing and they fashioned a way to lose 2-1. That tournament, and especially the Dutch captain, Johan Cruyff, was the catalyst for me to persuade my father to let me switch from playing rugby to football at the start of the next winter season.

I can still remember the ribbing I got from classmates four years later when I arrived late at school having watched Argentina beat Holland to win the 1978 final 3-1 in extra time.

Since 1978, apart from a solitary success at Euro '88, Dutch football has been a long litany of internal bickering, player power, missed opportunities, missed penalties and non-achievement. And all this with some of the best players in the world at the time. Players such as Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Dennis Bergkamp have all come and gone with Holland never having won soccer's biggest prize.

I love Spanish soccer. Barcelona are my favourite club side in the world. I prefer the style of soccer played in Spain to any of the other leagues in Europe. I admire the possession game based on superb technique and continual movement that the Spanish national side have perfected over recent years. On Monday morning, however, I hope that the Spanish soccer armada runs aground on the rocks of Dutch pragmatism.

For this is a Dutch side that has blended the concepts of Total Football with a steel and determination that have been sorely lacking in the past. Add to that a coach who understands the importance of team spirit and you have a formidable combination that should pose Spain some real problems.

The three gems in the Dutch crown are Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Schneider. They provide the cutting edge, but just as important, the other players understand their role is to provide support and a steady stream of possession. This is where Dutch teams of the past have fallen short. An abundance of talent has meant no one was willing to assume the "lesser" role of provider leading to in-fighting and disharmony.

Coach Bert van Marwijk can take credit for this change in attitude. His consistent selection policies have been one of the key reasons that Holland go into the final on an unbeaten run of 26 matches dating back to September 2008.

Monday morning's final is all about courage. Spain will be Spain. They will pass the cover off the Jabulani ball and weave the intricate patterns that are a joy to watch. If Holland are to win they will need to have more courage than the Germans did. Rather than be tentative and hand the initiative to the Spaniards, the Dutch must believe they can stand toe to toe, man for man. If they do, the match could be a classic. If not, it will follow the technically excellent but rather passionless display of the Germany-Spain semifinal.

On Monday morning, I will put aside my purist's hat and be at Soccer City with my orange Netherlands shirt under my Fifa uniform pleading for a Dutch victory and the right to finally sew a star above the crest on the national playing strip.

Fred de Jong is a former All White

- NZ Herald

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