Thursday 22 February 2018, 01:36

Australia's orange crush

  • Australia continues Dutch connection via new coach Bert van Marwijk

  • Appointment maintains a rich football connection between the nations

  • Ex-Australia and Feyenoord forward Brett Holman says Van Marwijk is a “good fit”

The Netherlands won’t be represented at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ following their unexpected stumble during qualifying. But while the familiar sea of orange will be missing from the stands there will, nevertheless, be a Dutch flavour in Russia, following last month’s announcement of Bert van Marwijk as Australia coach.

While Van Marwijk will be just one of numerous international coaches featuring in Russia, the appointment continues a clear theme. Van Marwijk will be Australia’s third Dutch coach in four World Cups following in the footsteps of compatriots Guus Hiddink and Pim Verbeek. The past decade also saw two Dutch technical directors appointed at Australia’s national federation.

That surface-level connection between the two countries runs deeper than first appears, and is one that dates back decades. Post-WWII migration from Europe led to a boom in football Down Under and, of course, Dutch immigrants brought their favourite game. Clubs such as Hollandia, Wilhelmina, and the quirkily named Windmills could be found in Australia’s various cities.

One ultimately stood out above all. Brisbane Lions competed in the former National Soccer League, and their direct descendent, Brisbane Roar, are now prominent in the A-League. The club still plays in orange and even their logo loosely resembles that of the Netherlands football association.

The Roar’s greatest success came under Ange Postecoglou, the only Australian to bisect the Socceroos’ trio of Dutch coaches. Postecoglou led the Aussies at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, playing a brand of football that had its roots in Holland. His high-pressing and passing game, invariably with a 4-3-3 formation, offered more than a nod to Dutch football of years gone by.

Almost inevitably, the two nations met in a pulsating match at Brazil 2014. The Dutch needed all the skill and guile of star forwards Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie to earn a 3-2 win. The contest will also be remembered for a crashing Tim Cahill volley, a goal evocative of Marco Van Basten’s storied strike from the 1988 European Championship final.

That match in Porto Alegre seemed a perfect punctuation to close Australia’s Dutch union. But last month, Van Marwijk was appointed Australia’s new coach following Postecoglou’s unexpected departure. Ironically, it was the Van Marwijk-coached Saudi Arabia that shaded Australia for automatic qualification to Russia.

Having achieved international success with Saudi Arabia and his native Netherlands, Van Marwijk has just four months to plot a path to success for the Socceroos. It will be far from easy for his team, who will open their Russia 2018 campaign against European heavyweights France, before group outings against Denmark and Peru.

Van Marwijk’s first task will be to assess players at his disposal during next month’s internationals against Colombia and Norway.

Two of Australia’s former World Cup stars – Brett Emerton and Brett Holman - featured under Van Marwijk over a decade ago for Feyenoord. They are well placed to appraise the new Socceroos’ boss, and both spoke in glowing terms.

Emerton enjoyed a breakout season under Van Marwijk winning the UEFA Cup in 2002. "First of all, he makes his teams hard to beat,” Emerton said. “He makes them solid at the back, but at the same time he wants you to play an attractive style of football. We've seen in the past he's able to do both.”

Holman, scorer of a memorable winner for the Socceroos against Serbia at the 2010 World Cup, is equally positive about Van Marwijk’s appointment. "I think it's a great choice,” said Holman. “For the players we've got now I think it's going to be a good fit."