Gullit beaming over Dutch performance

Former great Ruud Gullit concedes that this Dutch squad may not be as flashy as previous national teams, but he's proud his country has adapted in order to reach the World Cup final.

Ruud Gullit was the epitome of "Sexy Football."

Used to describe an attacking and stylish brand of soccer, the phrase was coined by Gullit during his spell as a TV pundit for the BBC, but it aptly described the style of the Netherlands national team that he prominently featured in during his playing career.

Buoyed by the world-class trio of Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, the Dutch team of the 1980s and 90s played some of the most cavalier and swashbuckling soccer the world has ever seen, winning the European Championship in 1988.

The criticism of the mighty Oranje was that they were too concerned with putting on a show at the expense of winning. That one of the most talented Dutch sides ever assembled never won a World Cup (falling short in 1990 and 1994) was a testament to the side’s lack of ruthlessness.

But the Dutch have learned their lesson, as evidenced by their workmanlike performances in South Africa that has led them to Sunday’s World Cup final against Spain in Johannesburg.

The Netherlands has abandoned the attacking philosophy that made them famous and adopted a more pragmatic and conservative approach at this competition, grinding out results and winning ugly.

Is Guillit angered that the Dutch have sold their souls and betrayed their soccer identity? Hardly.

"I think they’ve played with their heads," Guillit told CBC Sports on Saturday.

"In the past, I think a lot of teams have won [the World Cup] not because they played beautifully, but because they used their heads. They didn’t always show how good they were, but they were just efficient."

Gullit, a former star with AC Milan, concedes the Dutch may not be pretty to watch, but he maintains his country had to switch tactics in order to reach its third World Cup final.

"Sometimes that is bad for the crowd, but on the other hand if you want to win something, you have to," explained Gullit, a two-time European player of the year.

"There were a couple of victories by the Italians at the last World Cup that weren’t spectacular, but nobody remembers how good they played – they remember that they won.

"We had to adapt ourselves a little bit. It’s very un-Dutch. We don’t like it either, but it’s a matter of winning the tournament."

Spain is the reigning European champion and has only lost two matches since November 2006. Little surprise, then, that La Roja are favoured to defeat the Netherlands.

Guillit believes the Spaniards’ slick possession game, known as Tiki Taka, could play right into the hands of the Dutch.

"Spain had a lot of difficulties cracking open the opposition because everybody was more adapted to [them] and tried to demolish what they built up," Guillit said.

"Therefore, it’s hard for teams who take the initiative. The Dutch are happy to [play] a team that tries to attack and plays that way, so I think we will see an open game. Holland will be cautious, and that’s the way to win it."