The last side from the Netherlands to make serious in-roads in a World Cup was the class of 1998 which reached the semi-finals, only losing to Brazil on penalties having arguably been the better side in normal time. Under Guus Hiddink, the team was set up in a standard 4-4-2 formation. In sharp contrast, this current side have embraced many of the modern tactical innovations which have altered the landscape of football tactics in the past decade or so. As a result, they are rightly considered as one of the favourites to win the tournament. They employ the fashionable 4-2-3-1 system, for which the players have openly stated their preference for.
The three players in support of Robin van Persie interchange positions with even the much maligned Dirk Kuyt showing as much tactical awareness and teamwork. The holding players not only screen the back four but provide a platform for those ahead of them to express their talents. As a pairing, the out-and-out doggedness of Nigel De Jong sits very well with the destructive but also more progressive playing style of Mark Van Bommel. Bayern Munich's captain helped set the Dutch game in motion in the second period with a delightfully played ball over the top which Van Persie should have done better with. With more natural playmakers in Sneijder and Van Der Vaart operating in more advanced areas, it is vital that a certain degree of creativity is provided from deep.
After the game against Denmark, it had been suggested that Sneijder cut a disconsolate figure on occasions being shunted out to the left. Yet today he created and finished off the move for the winner from the left hand side. He dribbled with the ball in the left hand channel, playing in Van Bronckhorst outside him and when the captain's cross came out, Sneijder who had moved infield, was on hand to smash the ball home from just outside the box, albeit with some help from Eiji Kawashima in the Japanese goal.
Either side of the much maligned but perhaps underrated central defenders are two full-backs who relish going forward. One of the best young players at this tournament is Gregory Van Der Wiel who epitomises the role of the modern full-back. A lot of attacking full-backs are converted midfielders (Zenden, Cocu and Van Bronckhorst have all featured) whereas the Ajax man is actually a centre-half by nature. Though he did not have his finest game in terms of going forward, he showed his defender's instinct with an important back post clearance to prevent Keisuke Honda from scoring his second goal of the tournament.
One of the finest players not at this World Cup would have to be Ruud Van Nistelrooy. In his stead is Robin Van Persie, who although not yet off the mark in 2010, has the all-round game demanded of modern forwards. The Arsenal man is incredibly skilful and equally adept at coming short as he is at getting in behind beyond the centre-backs.
Furthermore, it is not a mere starting XI which is entrusted with the task of ending the Dutch's unwanted status as the finest footballing nation never to have won the World Cup. As they showed towards the end of the game today, players of the calibre of Elijero Elia and Ibrahim Afellay are the tonic any manager would love to reach for if things aren't going to plan.
Football is, these days more than ever before, a squad game. The Dutch have two wins from two games and are all but in the last 16. Without ever dazzling at their brilliant best, their form so far is ominously reminiscent of their bitter rivals and neighbours Germany.
You may have noticed before the game how the majority of the Dutch side did not sing the national anthem. In other nations, this may seen as a distinct and for some, shameful lack of patriotism.
In Spain, it's because their anthem has no lyrics. In the Netherlands, they much prefer the football song "Wij Houden Van Oranje". One of the lines talk of how a small country can be great (hoe een klein land groot kan zijn) - put simply it's by moving with the times and keeping pace with the evolution of our great game that is football. Fabio Capello, take note.