Monday, June 05, 2006

#8: Oranje


Where? Northwestern Europe, below sea level.

How big? Not big in size, about half the size of South Carolina. Pretty densely populated - about the size of Florida.

Something I learned from the CIA Factbook? The Netherlands was once ruled by the Spanish monarch. The Low Countries seceded in the 1570s, but Spain didn't recognize that until 70 years later. The Netherlands was a republican confederation for a while, then became part of France, then in 1815 they established the Kingdom of the Netherlands. That's got to be one of the youngest monarchies in the world. It is a constitutional monarchy and has a parliamentary system.

Geopolitical significance? The Dutch economy is actually pretty big for this small nation, and the Netherlands includes some of the world's largest shipping ports. Rotterdam for a long time was the world's busiest port (now it's Singapore). That makes the Netherlands important for Europe. Plus, since a whole lot of the country is below sea level, if the worst case scenarios of climate change/global warming occur, the country might look like the Ninth Ward.

Fun? Getting baked, brah. Actually, one of the things I remember about the Netherlands from friends of mine who traveled there is that the crossing signals for the blind sounded like techno music. That's pretty awesome. Also, I think it's awesome that the Dutch soccer fans, when they play Germany, chant that they want their bicycles back. During World War II, the Nazis confiscated bicycles from the Dutch and melted them down for steel. I'd be pissed too.


The Dutch are probably the world's best team never to have won the World Cup. They've been runners up twice, semifinalists another time. They've been Champions of Europe once, but semifinalists 4 times. A great resume, but they've never climbed the mountain. The Dutch failed to qualify in 2002, due to a tough qualifying group. Sometimes they've choked, but sometimes they've been screwed by the draw (and this year sure seems like that's kind of the case).

Qualifying this time around was pretty easy, but it's a good thing that the Dutch don't have to play Macedonia every time out, because they couldn't find a way to beat those minnows either time (the second time was after they'd already clinched qualification, though).

The roster is loaded, especially up front. But don't discount the veteran leadership between the pipes in Van der Sar. Robben is one of my favorite players, and he might not play too much. Van Bronkhorst is solid in the back. Before last weekend's events, I had a long passage here exalting Cocu. Van Basten shouldn't ignore van Bommel, though he might. But the one who can take over the game, and could be the kind of guy to win the Golden Boot, is Ruud Van Nistelrooy. I was not a believer of him a while ago, but now I think he's the real deal.

And they'll need the offensive talent to show up well in order to get through the toughest group in the cup.

The Dutch open with Serbia and Montenegro, and I think this is actually a dangerous match. The Serbs have a solid D, and should thwart some scoring opportunities. The Serbs score first, but van Nistelrooy equalizes. 1-1, an unsatisfying result.

They get their legs below them for the Cote d'Ivoire match, though. I wouldn't be surprised if I'm dead wrong about this, but I see the Dutch scoring early and often. 3-0 win for the Orange.

4 points might not be good enough to advance, so things are a little scary for the Dutch against Argentina. They play very conservatively, and the Argentines comply for a while because they've already clinched advancement. But on a fluke long ball (maybe offside), Argentina goes ahead. The Dutch spend the rest of the game hoping Serbia doesn't win by two. They get their wish and advance with 4 points.

Second place in the group lines them up against Portugal in the round of 16. Van der Sar makes huge saves in the penalty kick stage, and they send Portugal out.

The quarterfinal matchup brings England, fresh off a rout of Costa Rica. It's a tough matchup, and many of the players are familiar with each other, and the crowd is as loud as they come. Van Nistelrooy opens the scoring and the Dutch go up 1-0. The Netherlands' midfield plays pretty solid and keeps possession much of the first half. Things look bad for England, but Steven Gerrard strikes from 20 yards out to equalize. In extra time, Gerrard scores again - flair for the dramatic, indeed. 2-1, and there's jubilation in England.

A so-so to disappointing Cup for the Dutch, especially because of the injuries in the recent friendlies. But it says something about a country when a quarterfinal run is disappointing. This just isn't the perfect set-up for the Dutch to finally climb that mountain. I hope I see them do it though.

If the World Cup were March Madness, the Netherlands would be... major conference team, dominant at times, incredible collection of talent, but never claimed the title. Recently a lot of basketball teams have earned that elusive title (Syracuse, UConn, Arizona). I'm thinking Texas or Illinois. Illinois it is for the color.

The wooden shoes prevent laces from getting tangled with gears.