De Boer & Cocu: Dutch must keep eyes on prize

JOHANNESBURG - Netherlands must stay focused on the main prize of lifting the World Cup and not get carried away with success in the earlier rounds, assistant coaches Frank de Boer and Phillip Cocu said on Friday.

They added that the Dutch, who face Slovakia in the last 16 on Monday, had similar qualities to their own team who reached the semi-finals in France in 1998 but should have gone further.

"It all has to do with focusing on your target. You can celebrate reaching a quarter or semi-final but it is all about winning the final," said Cocu, who won 101 caps.

De Boer added: "That is something I missed when we played at the 1998 World Cup. Then we seemed satisfied with reaching the final four. At Euro 2000 we had the focus but failed in the semis against Italy because I missed two penalties".

"It's my experience with tournaments like this that I want to convey to this squad," said De Boer, who has 112 caps.

The Dutch lost on penalties in the 1998 semi against Brazil and two years later at the Euros they co-hosted with Belgium missed three in the shootout with Italy and two in the match.

Netherlands beat Cameroon in their final Group E game on Thursday to take their winning streak to 11 World Cup matches, including eight qualifiers, as they became the first team since Brazil in 1982 to win all their qualifying and group games.

Despite getting into the winning habit the Dutch have been criticised by the media for not playing exciting football but Cocu believes they will soon start to turn on the style.

"So far we have not played that well but in 1998 we had a poor start as well (0-0 against Belgium) but then we really grew into the tournament," he said.


De Boer said he spent more time with the younger players, like 23-year-old forward Eljero Elia, than the more experienced ones who already knew how to handle the pressure.

"From my own time, I remember the 1992 Euros and 1994 World Cup as a spectator and, later on, after missing Euro 1996 through injury, I started realising what it was all about," added De Boer, who quit international football after Euro 2004.

"I talk to the players individually but also in groups such as the defence," he said, adding that he would often take a player out of a group session and speak to him separately about how he could improve thereby raising the general standard.

While stressing the need to focus on the end game in the shape of the World Cup final on July 11 at Soccer City, the Dutch know they must first get through a tricky game with Slovakia on Monday at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban.

Although that sounds easier than a clash with the Italians, who they beat 3-0 at Euro 2008, the Dutch are aware of the strength of their lesser known opponents who themselves beat world champions Italy on Thursday to knock them out.

"We didn't cheer that it would be Slovakia instead of Italy. They played great in that match and deserved the win," said Cocu who was part of the last Dutch World Cup team to suffer a second round defeat when they lost to Portugal in 2006.

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