The Dutch take on Uruguay in Cape Town tonight looking to recreate the 1970s glory era, with coach Bert van Marwijk placing his trust in Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie.
Neither man enjoyed the best of domestic seasons and Van Persie has not always cut a contented figure in South Africa amid rumours of a sour relationship with star man Wesley Sneijder.
But Van Marwijk is happy to have the duo on board for a journey that took such an unexpected twist with that fabulous quarter-final triumph over Brazil.
“I read somewhere that when Rafael Benitez picked a team at Liverpool, he wrote Kuyt’s name down first. That says everything,” Van Marwijk said. “Every player has a period where things don’t work out and Liverpool had a very tough year, but Kuyt is extremely important for us. The way he plays shows his passion and enthusiasm, and it is catching.”
It has taken the Arsenal star a bit of time to find his form, with just one goal so far, but Van Marwijk believes the 26-year-old remains a major influence.
“Robin is extremely talented,” he said. “He is one of the best football players on this planet. He was injured for a very long time and you do need a certain rhythm. Sometimes it comes just like that. Sometimes it takes a bit longer.
“But he was better in the last match than the one before. Players with so much talent can suddenly decide a game. I always believe in him.”
With Wesley Sneijder pulling the strings – and scoring four goals in the process – Holland arrive in the last four as the only member of the quartet to have won every game so far. Added to the fact they also boasted a 100% record in qualification, Van Marwijk has clearly done something right.
The 58-year-old cuts an impressive figure, exuding a quiet authority that is not afraid to deliver curt answers to questions he feels are either ridiculous or impertinent.
Brought into the international set-up to replace Marco van Basten following Euro 2008, Van Marwijk might be relatively unknown outside Dutch borders. Not that Van Marwijk is flawless. Sometimes he even loses his temper.
“I once kicked an advertising hoarding, so I do have that anger,” he said. “But it is important that, under all circumstances, you stay above things. The players mustn’t become confused by your behaviour. I can be angry and emotional but I am also capable of being cool, calm, and collected.”
Van Marwijk, however, appears to have convinced his biggest stars to patch up their wounds, or at least apply a sticking plaster for the duration of the tournament.
No easy task that, especially when Sneijder and Van Persie, arguably Holland’s most influential players, came into this competition on the back of a two-year dispute.
It emanated from a training clash plus a row over who should take Holland’s free kicks, dating back to Euro 2008 when Holland were knocked out 3-1 after extra time in the quarter-finals by Russia. In the latter stages Van Persie took a free kick which Sneijder believed was assigned to him.
A petty spat, but public sniping in the media between the two made matters worse and the pair have barely spoken since. Yet the team do not seem to have suffered.
Much of that is down to Van Marwijk, the 57-year-old who won the 2002 Uefa Cup with Feyenoord and has shown himself to be a master pragmatist. In fact, the only controversy in Holland’s build-up was when Van Marwijk banned his players from posting on Twitter after winger Eljero Elia streamed a video of himself playing a computer game with Ryan Babel and making comments which appeared to insult Moroccans. Elia apologised.
But it is the well-being of Sneijder which is most important. If Van Persie provides the fire power and Arjen Robben the touch of unpredictability which all sides need then Sneijder is the orchestrator.
More importantly Sneijder, the man who already has scored four of Holland’s nine goals at this World Cup has delivered at a tournament where Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi have disappointed.
It is that cutting edge which suggests Holland can reach their first World Cup final since losing to Argentina in 1978 amid the ‘Total Football’ era.