DENVER — Coors’ Field in downtown Denver was quiet at 6:15 this morning, forming a curious baseball backdrop for a bunch of locally based Dutch fans kicking a soccer ball about at halftime.
And the fact that the bar ran out of Heineken about half an hour later didn’t ruin the enjoyment of about 50 of them at a downtown watering hole as the beloved Oranje won out over group rivals Japan.
Despite the unearthly start time of 5.30am Mountain Time, the local Denver Dutch community turned out in force to watch their team overcome the Japanese just as they had done earlier in the week against Denmark. The Netherlands’ final group game is at the much more acceptable hour of 12:30 p.m. Denver time next week.
Amid a sea of orange shirts, Dutch flags, klaxons and beer, the Netherlands fans were clearly delighted at another good result for their team even if it wasn’t a commanding performance. The Dutch now need just a point against Cameroon in their final game to ensure qualification for the knockout stage.
“It was decent [but] not very pretty,” said Dick Bernauer, a native of Ruurlo in eastern Holland. “I think they are playing on the safe side.”
Steven Haaksma, originally from The Hague, said Dutch fans were anxiously waiting for Arjen Robben to make his World Cup bow.
“They’re not really taking many risks with Robben not playing,” he said. The Bayern Munich player gives the Dutch team an “extra dimension,” added Bernauer.
There was a big cheer, though, when substitute Eljero Elia made his entrance in the second half. The young winger lit up the opening game against Denmark as a substitute and the Dutch fans clapped, cheered and blew their klaxons when the player came on against Japan this morning.
The fancy Dutch play can come at later stages in the tournament, clearly a position the local fans think they will be in.
“We are dreaming of a Germany Netherlands final to take revenge for 1974,” Haaksma said.
West Germany defeated Holland 2-1 in the 1974 World Cup final, a defeat that still spurs bitter disappointment in football fans all over the world. To do that, Haaksma knows that the Dutch will have to maybe overcome Brazil en route to the final.
“I think we have a good chance against them,” he said. He’s not worried either about likely last 16 opponents Paraguay or Slovakia.
What is always more worrying for the Dutch is their tendency to self-destruct. The national team is consistently rumored to be on the verge of internal rifts which threaten to disrupt their overwhelmingly good soccer. But the fans this morning were singing the praises of the Dutch coach, Bert van Marwijk, who appears to be forging a strong team identity and unity.
“If the players turn up late for training, they are out,” said one Dutch fan. “Before, they used to have to tell a joke or sing.”
There will be plenty of singing and dancing by the Dutch fans in Denver if they can get to the latter stages of the 2010 tournament, as long as the bar is able to stock some more Heineken.