Underachieving Holland look like a united nation

So far, so good for Holland, with only Argentina matching their three straight wins in the group stage.

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So far, so good for Holland, with only Argentina matching their three straight wins in the group stage. Bert van Marwijk's side topped Group E, with five goals scored and just one conceded. They did so without ever appearing to play to their full potential. Holland are clear favourites in today's last 16 game against a so far spirited Slovakia in Durban, but they will be wary against a team who were good enough to beat Italy last week.

"This is an opponent we must not underestimate," warned their coach. "We cannot be nonchalant." He is right to err on the side of caution: Holland also exited the last World Cup at this stage after losing by a single goal to Portugal. But the overall situation is looking far more positive than in Germany four years ago - or in 2002 when the Dutch failed to qualify for the World Cup. Harmony is not a word normally associated with Dutch squads renowned for infighting and intolerance, but a low-profile Van Marwijk has so far succeeded in uniting a squad of sizeable egos.

A faultless qualifying campaign meant the Dutch were the first European country to reach South Africa as they won all eight of their games, once again excelling in defence, conceding just two goals. Expectations are high. The 4-3-3 formation is classically Dutch and anything less than a semi-final appearance would be a disappointment, but Holland are perennial underachievers with a history of imploding in major tournaments.

Twice losing finalists in 1974 and 1978, they have never won a World Cup despite the talents which have graced their teams. Wesley Sneijder remains as decisive to the side as he is in his play. A product of the famed Ajax youth academy in Amsterdam, he made his debut at 18 and spent five seasons in the first team before joining Real Madrid. Unlike compatriot Arjen Robben, who can count himself unlucky to be released by Real after they signed Cristiano Ronaldo, Sneijder saw a little too much of the Spanish capital's nightlife for the club's liking.

He was disciplined over his conduct, his marriage collapsed (he weds again this summer to a famous Dutch actress), and was allowed to join Inter Milan last year. The move was positive and Sneijder appeared reformed under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho. The season ended sweetly as he lifted the Champions League in the home of his former club. Real's five-strong Dutch contingent was cut to two last season, with Rafael van der Vaart and Royston Drenthe remaining, though both have been linked with moves away from the Bernabeu.

Van der Vaart has played in all three of Holland's games so far, but with Robben back from injury and the perception that his style is too similar to Sneijder to accommodate them both, Van der Vaart, who suffered an injury scare in training, is likely to find himself on the bench today. Sneijder is undoubtedly the form player, his vision, intelligence and touch troubling his opponents. His pass to Robben against Cameroon was arguably the play of the tournament so far - a curving 50-yard through-ball with the outside of his foot, which found the winger on the far side of two defenders.

Sneijder and Robben are crucial to a Dutch side which, contrary to its performance in qualification, has not looked entirely confident at the back. If they can overcome Slovakia today, both will be needed in the quarter-finals, with Brazil the likely opponents. sports@thenational.ae