The Netherlands has been more substance than style so far at the World Cup and Bert van Marwijks team is happy to stay that way to beat Slovakia and secure a spot in the quarterfinals. The Netherlands start as strong favorites but will not be taking anything for granted on Monday in Durban after Slovakias stunning 3-2 defeat of Italy in group play,which sent the defending champion home.
Slovakia also boasts one of the tournaments top scorers in Robert Vittek,whose three goals place him at the top of the scoring table with David Villa of Spain,Argentine Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez of Uruguay.
Slovakia did well, Netherlands defender John Heitinga said. You dont just win like that from Italy. There were signs in the last group game that the famous Dutch clockwork orange attacking style of quick exchanges of passing and running off the ball is finally starting to click.
Robin van Persies opening goal in his teams 2-1 defeat of Cameroon was a case in point the Arsenal striker played a one-two with Rafael van der Vaart and Dirk Kuyt stepped over the ball to let it run to Van Persie,who gratefully buried his first goal of the tournament in the back of the net.
However,Van Marwijk was not satisfied. He wants the team to control possession and patiently probe for openings in the opponents defense. It might not please all fans as Dutch total football does,but it wins matches, Van Marwijk argues.
Against Cameroon,the Netherlands gave the ball away too often,he said,and will have to be sharper against Slovakia. If we are as concentrated as during the first two games and look for space with direct moves,then we are at our best, he said.
Then we have patience,we have speed we can score. But you cannot afford to play that nonchalantly for 20 minutes.
The Netherlands,losing World Cup finalist in 1974 and 1978,beat Denmark 2-0 and Japan 1-0 in its first two games for a perfect record in the group phase. Slovakia drew 1-1 with New Zealand and lost 2-0 to Paraguay before its decisive victory over Italy sent it into the round of 16.
Nothing to lose
Van Marwijk said Slovakia will be dangerous because less is expected of them. We came here as newcomers and outsiders, Vittek said after his two goals helped decide the upset of Italy. But we have already surprised once and we want to do it again. We really have moved the limits of Slovak football somewhere else.
Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss said his team would play with the same spirit against the Netherlands as it did against former champions Italy.
They are the favorites but you never know, Weiss said. They have attacking players like (Wesley) Sneijder and Van der Vaart. Its not easy to play against these guys. They won all their matches at the group stage. They are a fantastic team with fantastic players.