The DNA of the Holland team appears to have been changed. They have won their opening two matches, qualifying with a game to spare, but the words to describe their performances are more associated with Germany. They have been efficient, neat and methodical, with little of the fluid and expansive football that is usually considered a mandatory obligation of all those who pull on the orange and black.
The legacy left by Johan Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp and those many other exquisitely gifted footballers is of being recognised as one of the more sophisticated football nations, and that means the Dutch are supposed to beguile us.The latest team-by-team news, features and more
It is not enough to win; the requirement is do so in a particular way. Yet this victory owed largely to a goalkeeping mistake from Japan's Eiji Kawashima and, in the post-match press conference, one of the Dutch corps chastised the coach, Bert van Marwijk, for the team's "dreadful" passing. His tone was accusatory, holding up a mobile phone and complaining that it was full of text messages from friends questioning when the team last played with solittle incision.
It was a prickly little exchange. An exasperated Van Marwijk argued, legitimately, that Japan's conservatism in playing a deep, defensive line had contributed. They were spoiling tactics and it has been a recurring theme of this World Cup, with Switzerland's 1-0 defeat of Spain the most comprehensive demonstration of how frustration can be made an artform.
Van Marwijk, searching for reasons to explain why his team had created so few opportunities in their games against Japan and Denmark, also spoke about the computer data that is meticulously scrutinised by managers and coaches. "The thing is, you don't have any secrets these days," he said. "We want to play beautiful football but it is not always that easy."
In fairness to Holland, they still have reason to be satisfied with the manner in which they have navigated their way safely through Group E and, in terms of entertainment, there should be more to enjoy when the fit-again Arjen Robben returns, the Bayern Munich player having been the outstanding performer in last season's Bundesliga and a man who symbolises the flair and adventure for which Holland's footballers are renowned.
For all the criticism, they had almost two-thirds of the possession. The problem was the majority of it came in areas where they would not trouble their opponents. When they advanced into more attacking zones there was little penetration or guile and they were indebted, ultimately, to Kawashima misjudging the flight of Wesley Sneijder's 53rd-minute shot for a soft goal.
"We know there is a lot more to come from us," the captain, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, said. "It feels like we're gradually building up momentum and that's what you have to do at World Cups.
"In the past we've started tournaments really, really well and then fallen away, and that's one thing we want to do differently this time. It's no good having a really good group stage if your level goes down after that. For us, it's about keeping the momentum going, gradually improving and making sure that every game is better."
There is certainly scope for improvement when it comes to Robin van Persie. The Arsenal player was substituted after failing to make any impression on the Japan defence and his performances in both Holland games are becoming a cause for consternation for Van Marwijk.
"He played well in the warm-up games against Ghana and Hungary but he is not satisfied with himself after two matches here," the coach said. "But he will improve. He is the kind of player who can change the way the whole team play and I think it's important he continues to play to get his form back after all his injuries this season."
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