Van Basten prepares for final fling

Marco van Basten's time as Netherlands coach will end after UEFA EURO 2008™ – so the 43-year-old will be determined to prolong his reign for as long as possible.

Van Basten already has a UEFA European Championship winner's medal having been the fulcrum of the Oranje side that triumphed in 1988. He ended that tournament with five goals including his remarkable volley in the 2-0 final victory over the USSR, yet the free-flowing football of old is little evident in the current set-up. Style has given way to substance.

The 4-3-3 system synonymous with the Netherlands since Rinus Michels' team of the 1970s has been overlooked in favour of a more pragmatic 4-4-2, though the fresh approach has paid dividends with the Oranje booking their place in Austria and Switzerland. Michels himself had switched to a 4-4-2 in 1988 following the opening game – a 1-0 defeat by the Soviets – so there is a positive precedent.

Defensive steel
In December, Van Basten met key players and 4-2-3-1 emerged as another alternative, although one thing is certain: the presence of a four-man rearguard in front of goalkeeper/captain Edwin van der Sar. Joris Mathijsen is a sure thing, with André Ooijer, John Heitinga , Mario Melchiot, Wilfred Bouma,Tim de Cler and Giovanni van Bronckhorst vying for the other positions. The Netherlands conceded only five times in qualifying, a steely defence that provides the foundations for a more elaborate midfield.

Creative talent
In Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, Van Basten boasts three of the most creative and attacking midfield talents in Europe, although the wily Clarence Seedorf has elected not to join the squad for the finals. There will be another vastly experienced man leading the line, as Ruud van Nistelrooy sets his sights on Patrick Kluivert's Dutch record of 40 international goals. Should he misfire, Danny Koevermans, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink are waiting in the wings.


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