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Netherlands vs. Uruguay: Dutch coach wary of his players looking beyond Uruguay in pursuit of first World Cup title

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By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA -- No nation has stood as tall as the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup.

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Even with superstar winger Arjen Robben ailing at the outset, the Dutch sailed through their first-round matches with ease. Then they beat Slovakia to advance to the quarterfinals, where they stormed back from an early deficit to stun worshippers of the beautiful game, and themselves, by upsetting five-time champion Brazil.

And now, the Oranje stand alone: The sole team among the 32 that qualified for this World Cup to win every match it has played.

On Monday, Coach Bert van Marwijk, the man largely responsible for sending Dutch fans into delirium over the prospect of winning the nation's first World Cup, was peppered with questions about how he planned to avoid the letdowns of 1974 and 1978, when Holland reached back-to-back finals only to fall short.

And the veteran defender Giovanni van Bronckhorst, 35, who formerly played for Barcelona, was asked whether he preferred to meet Spain or Germany in Sunday's final.

One small matter was overlooked in this, of course.

It's the small country of Uruguay, the Netherlands' opponent in Tuesday's semifinal at Cape Town and, as such, the final hurdle before the Dutch reach the Sunday final that so many Orange-clad fans, and many soccer prognosticators, have decided is a foregone conclusion.

And that's precisely the biggest challenge for the Netherlands heading into Tuesday's semifinal, van Marwijk warned on Monday.

"When we do well, we tend to become a bit arrogant," van Marwijk confessed, referring to Friday's 2-1 triumph over Brazil and the smugness and complacency that often follows great sporting achievements. "I think our players have understood this."

Uruguay is the least likely of the four World Cup semifinalists, with recent credentials that pale alongside those brandished by Germany, Spain and Holland.

But while Uruguay has a population of just 3.5 million to the Netherlands' 16 million, it boasts two things the Dutch do not: A pair of World Cup trophies claimed at the inaugural tournament, in 1930, and in 1950.

They are faded, to be sure -- the stuff of history books to La Celeste's current generation and even to their parents. But the glory of Uruguay's two World Cup championships lives on in grainy black-and-white photographs and in a legacy that has weighed heavily on every national team since.

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