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Dutch Connections Keep Spanish Fans on Tenterhooks

It is a mouth-watering proposition: High-flying Holland versus a resurgent Spain. For the neutral, it would be a great soccer spectacle. But for some fans, it would be a crisis of loyalties.

Soccer players Royston Drenthe, left, and Wesley Sneijder both from Netherlands, pose during their official presentation as new Real Madrid players in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid

Royston Drenthe, left, and Wesley Sneijder are just two of Real Madrid's Dutch stars

Spanish fans, especially those who follow Real Madrid, will rejoice that David Villa's last-gasp winner against Sweden will almost certainly put off, for the time being, their having to achieve what world champions Italy and runners-up France could not.

Namely, avoid being turned over by a Dutch team hitting peak form.

Spain's successes over Russia and the Swedes mean Luis Aragones' men won Group D after the Russians defeated Greece 1-0 on Saturday and ended the Greeks reign as European champions.

That means a quarter-final meeting with Romania, France -- or world champions Italy, who controversially knocked the "Furia roja" out in the last eight of the 1934 and 1994 World Cups.

For many reasons, this allows the Spanish faithful to breathe a little easier -- at least for now. If both the Dutch and Spain keep up their current form, they will put off the potentially juicy clash until later in the tournament and postpone a conflict of interest for Spanish fans of the 'Oranje'.

Real Madrid's Dutchmen making Spanish proud

Ruud Van Nistelrooy, right, celebrates with Dutch teammate Arjen Robben

Robben and van Nistelrooy have enjoyed success in Spain

In a country where club famously comes before country, Real fans must feel they are in a win-win situation as their trio Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Ruud van Nistelrooy have been on fire for Holland in two games where they have over-run both the Italians and the French.

If and when the Dutch and the Spanish do meet, given their extensive personnel links, it will be an interesting meeting of soccer minds.

The Dutch would have a slight advantage, given their intimate knowledge of the Spanish system through playing in La Liga.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who netted against the Italians along with Sneijder and van Nistelrooy, spent four years at Barcelona, though he has now returned home to Feyenoord.

Holland have for decades made superb travelers and their ability to indulge in cultural assimilation is second to none.

Although they have a solid foundation of home-based players, nine in the squad turning out in the Eredivisie, six more ply their trade in the English Premiership. Real's goalscoring trio aside 'only' four play in Spain -- the fourth 'mosquetero' being Sevilla defender Khalid Boulahrouz.

Holland stars find home-from-home in La Liga

But the links with La Liga are tried and tested and Spain has become almost a second home for a roll call of famous Dutch players throughout the decades.

Former FC Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard

Dutchman Frank Rijkaard was coach at Barcelona

All that has changed recently is today Real Madrid are more orange than Barcelona, who has traditionally had the deeper Dutch hue with the likes of Johan Cruyff, fellow recent coaches Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard and a long roll call of Dutch internationals from Johan Neeskens to Patrick Kluivert and Marc Overmars.

Real may of course try to balance things up next season by bringing in a Portuguese-speaker in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Portuguese has regularly been heard in the corridors of the Nou Camp -- but Barca's preference in that regard has historically been for lusophones who hail from Brazil.

Whatever the domestic ramifications for next year's La Liga contest, one thing is clear on the evidence of Euro 2008 to date: The Dutch, with their 21st-Century variant of Total Football are unquestionably the Latinos of northern Europe, with van Basten a proponent of flair-fuelled, attacking football from the flanks -- a concept foreign to so many teams today.

Possible semi-final clash pits friends and colleagues

Spain's Fernando Torres, front, reacts after scoring the opening goal, as teammate David Villa grabs him, during the group D match between Sweden and Spain in Innsbruck

Torres and Villa have combined with lethal effect

A quarter-final encounter with the Swedes -- or possibly the Russians -- would thus prove a fascinating clash of styles before a potential semi pitting Holland's Real Madrid forward line against Real Madrid pillars of the Spanish defense in the shape of Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos.

Meanwhile, the Dutch will have their defense tested -- perhaps for the first time to such an extent in Euro 2008 -- by the hot form of Valencia-Liverpool tandem David Villa and Fernando Torres.

It would make for a fascinating contest at any level bit let's hope there is much to play for when these two countries meet.

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