The conflict in the Balkans was not only a tragedy in human terms; it was also a disaster for Yugoslav football. After being knocked out of the 1990 World Cup on penalties by Argentina, there was much optimism about the chances of winning the 1992 European Championships. With a side containing Prosinecki, Boban, Suker, Savicevic, Stojkovic and Mihailovic, they were arguably the best team on paper in the tournament. All that was ended, however, by the terrible destruction of the country and resulting sanctions imposed against Belgrade.
Now fully rehabilitated into the footballing world, Yugoslavia served warning of their potential with a 7-1 away victory in Budapest in the play-offs for a place in France. Manager Slobodan Santrac has assembled a squad with a hard-working yet creative midfield, including Jugovic of Lazio and Real Madrids Predag Mijatovic. The only doubt about the team is an proven defence that may be unable to contain the better attacks they will have to face in order to progress to the later stages.
The Dutch side has arguably been the best on show in three of the last six world cups, yet have only two finalists medals to show for it. Though that may not be the case in France, there is no doubt that the team has the potential to make an impact on the later stages of the tournament. Many doubts remain, however, about the unity and motivation of a squad allegedly beset by racial strife in Euro 96. Much will depend on the ability of coaches Gus Hiddinck and Frank Rikjaard to mould the massive talents (and egos) of his squad into a collective whole, whilst retaining all the crucial players on side. This is no remote possibility. Cruyff refused to play in 1978, Gullit in 1994, and Edgar Davies went home in the middle of the last European Championships.
That said, the Dutch on form display a flair and panache, and on their day are able to beat anyone. The legendary versatility of the Ajax groomed players often seems as much as a hindrance as a help, but does mean that when it all clicks into place the team plays a total football not equalled by any other nation.
This time round much of the focus will be on the performance of Bergkamp, and his ability to impose himself on games may be the determining factor in exactly how far Holland manage to progress. Support in attack will probably come Arsenal teammate Overmars and Patrick Kluivert, currently of AC Milan; however the latter has hardly been in the best of form recently and could face an accessory to rape charge before the summer. Midfield will be controlled by the Seedorf, and, if he doesnt fall out with the manager again, Davids. The defence is likely to feature the Barcelona duo of Reizeiger and Bogarde as well as Jaap Staam, currently being touted around Premiership teams with a £16 million price tag. Add to this the quality and experience of Jonk, Winter, and the de Boer brothers, and it is easy to see why the biggest obstacle to a Dutch victory is themselves.
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