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Van Basten´s ´Spanish´ sorcerers give Spanish fans a dilemma

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 15 Jun 2008

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Spanish fans, expecially those who follow Real Madrid, will rejoice that David Villa's last-gasp winner against Sweden will almost certainly put off, for the time being, their having to achieve what world champions Italy and runners-up France could not.

Namely, avoid getting flattened by a Dutch steamroller.

Spain's successes over Russia and the Swedes mean Luis Aragones' men won Group D after the Russians defeated Greece 1-0 on Saturday and ended the Greeks reign as European champions.

That means a quarter-final meeting with either Romania, France – or world champions Italy, who controversially knocked the “Furia roja” out in the last eight of the 1934 and 1994 World Cups.

But at least a meeting with the Dutch will be for a later date – if both keep up their current form – and that postpones a conflict of interest for Spanish fans of the 'Oranje'.

In a country where club famously comes before country Real fans must feel they are in a win-win situation as their trio Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Ruud van Nistelrooy have been on fire for Holland in two games where they have wrung the life out of both the Italians and the French.

If and when the Dutch and the Spanish do meet, given their extensive personnel links, it will be an interesting meeting of footballing minds.

The odds would suggest advantage Holland in that their players have intimate knowledge of the Spanish system through playing in La Liga.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who netted against the Italians along with Sneijder and van Nistelrooy, spent four years at Barcelona, though he has now returned home to Feyenoord.

Holland have for decades made superb travellers and their ability to indulge in cultural assimilation is second to none.

Although they have a solid foundation of home-based players, nine in the squad turning out in the Eredivisie, six more ply their trade in the English Premiership. Real's goalscoring trio aside 'only' four play in Spain – the fourth 'mosquetero' being Sevilla defender Khalid Boulahrouz.

But the links with La Liga are tried and tested and Spain has become almost a second home for a roll call of famous Dutch players throughout the decades.

All that has changed recently is today Real Madrid are more orange than Barcelona, who has traditionally had the deeper Dutch hue with the likes of Johan Cruyff (champion player and coach), fellow recent coaches Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard and a long roll call of Dutch internationals from Johan Neeskens to Patrick Kluivert and Marc Overmars.

Real may of course try to balance things up next season by bringing in a Portuguese-speaker in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Portuguese has regularly been heard in the corridors of the Nou Camp – but Barca's preference in that regard has historically been for lusophones who hail from Brazil.

Whatever the domestic ramifications for next year's La Liga contest, one thing is clear on the evidence of Euro 2008 to date:

The Dutch, with their 21st-Century variant of Total Football are unquestionably the latinos of northern Europe, with van Basten a proponent of flair-fuelled, attacking football from the flanks – a concept foreign to so many today and past sides such as 1966 vintage England.

A quarter-final encounter with the Swedes – or possibly the Russians – would thus prove a fascinating clash of styles before a potential semi pitting Holland's Real Madrid forward line against Real Madrid pillars of the Spanish defence in the shape of Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos.

At least Spain's rivals do not have Raul to worry about – although given the hot form of Valencia-Liverpool tandem David Villa and Fernando Torres that will be of little comfort to anyone, Holland or otherwise.

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SoccerNews

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