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The Legendary Striker Behind the Oranje Revolution

He was one of the most feared strikers in the world during his pomp and has now seemingly built a team in his own image. Marco van Basten's Holland have taken Euro 2008 by storm.

Marco van Basten

Code Oranje: Van Basten has built a team which has put everyone on alert

The former Ajax, AC Milan and Holland striker is in the envious position of having already qualified from Group C at Euro 2008 with a game to spare. While his Dutch team is not unique in this feat, the others who have done so have not had to play the World Cup winners and the World Cup runners-up before being afforded that luxury.

Van Basten's Netherlands must have winced when they saw the draw for the European Championships. Drawn with France and Italy, plus the unknown quantity of Romania, a trickier group could hardly have been imagined.

It was the ubiquitous Group of Death, a combination which always seems to crop up at major tournaments and pitched a number of top teams together. The structure of such groups is such that if three top teams are drawn together, one of them will not progress. The Dutch were far from certain to fail but they were perhaps not favorites to ease through.

But as winger Arjen Robben recently said after the comprehensive 3-0 win over Italy and the 4-1 demolition of France: "This was called the Group of Death and now we're the ones doing the killing."

The fact that the Dutch have put two of the world's top sides to the sword has much to do with their young coach.

Marco van Basten

Van Basten tasted Euro success as a player in 1988

Van Basten was a lethal striker in his day. He scored 128 goals in 133 appearances for Ajax between 1982 and 1987 before moving to Italy. He then went on to hit 90 goals for AC Milan in 147 games before a serious knee injury ended his illustrious career.

In between, he scored 24 goals for his country; won titles both in the Netherlands and Italy, back-to-back European Cups, the 1988 European Championship (in the final of which he scored a stunning volleyed winner), and was named European Footballer of the Year three times and World Player of the Year once.

Meteoric rise to coaching prominence

Known for his strength and tactical awareness as well as his spectacular strikes, van Basten's reading of the game made him an excellent candidate for coaching. Despite his playing reputation and the fact he learned his trade under managers such as Arrigo Sacchi and Johan Cruyff, no one thought van Basten would rise so quickly.

Marco van Basten

The coach soon made huge changes

After swearing never to take up management after his playing days were over, van Basten was coaxed back to the game to oversee the Ajax reserves in 2003. Within a year, he was at the helm of the Dutch national team.

He proceeded in dropping a host of established regulars, saying they were either past it or lacking motivation, and set about building a side full of youth. He bucked the trend of picking from the Dutch Big Three -- Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord -- and recruited players from throughout the Eredivisie.

He took his young side to the 2006 World Cup with high hopes but after showing initial promise, they imploded in a bad tempered last-16 clash with Portugal and crashed out.

Van Basten's Holland Mk II

Rebuilding his side -- and some strained relationships, specifically that with Ruud van Nistlerooy who had vowed never to play for him again -- van Basten navigated the Dutch through a successful Euro 2008 qualifying campaign and into the finals as runners-up in their group behind Romania.

Netherlands' Giovanni van Bronckhorst, center, back to camera, celebrates with fellow team members after scoring during the group C match between the Netherlands and Italy

The new Dutch team plays exciting, rapid and deadly soccer

Now, with the finals in full flow, van Basten -- who is attempting to add the European title as a coach to the one he won as a player -- looks to have gotten the mix right in his final tournament as national coach before returning to Ajax as first team coach in July.

Ominously, van Basten has warned that his side, which has taken the tournament by storm, still has room for improvement.

In comments that underlined the burgeoning confidence in the camp of the Oranje, van Basten insisted his side would be going all out for victory in their final group match against Romania on Tuesday, despite having already wrapped up their quarter-final place with stunning wins over Italy and France.

The Italians and the French have expressed concern that the Dutch will take their foot off the pedal and allow Romania a win that would see both of the 2006 World Cup finalists eliminated at the group stage.

No let up, promises van Basten

Van Basten insisted however they had no cause for concern.

"We are in a good position but we also want to play a good game, so we take it really seriously and we are going to put out the best formation we can think of against Romania," he said.

"All the praise gives you a lot of confidence and that is important for the players," he said. "But it does not really matter what the crowd or the press say."

"They are very positive at the moment, everything is great. But we also know between ourselves there are things to improve and that is what we are talking about and working on," he said.

Italy's players react after a goal scored by Netherlands' Ruud van Nistelrooy

Romania are next in line for the free-scoring Dutch

Van Basten has confirmed that he will take the opportunity to give some match time to players who were not involved in the previous games. But he claimed that would not necessarily mean Romania would be facing a weaker side.

"We have a very professional group with 23 'A' internationals and they are all serious professionals and good players. We are going to confront the game with the same concentration and intention as the last two games."

Ruud backs up coach

Van Basten's comments were backed up by Ruud van Nistelrooy, who said the Dutch were reluctant to switch down a gear ahead of a quarter-final against either Russia or Sweden.

Netherlands' Ruud van Nistelrooy, fourth from left, celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the group C match between the Netherlands and Italy

The team spirit in the Dutch team is a welcome change

"We put a lot of work in to reach the level of the first two games and we don't want to lose that momentum," he said. "It is important for the next games we have to play."

Asked to explain how the Dutch have hit such form here, van Basten said the quality of his side's finishing had been crucial. "I think we had already a good team and good players," he said.

"We already played some good games in preparation. But also last year we had some games where we created a lot of chances and didn't make the goals.

"The big difference now is that the occasions we created ourselves against Italy and France we made into goals. The result is very positive and the feeling is very positive."

Team spirit holding Dutch together

Van Nistelrooy -- who thanks to the mediating skills of Edwin van der Sar set aside his differences with van Basten from the 2006 World Cup finals to rejoin the international set-up -- put the performances down to the strength of the spirit among the players, an element that has sometimes been missing from equally talented Dutch squads in the past.

Ruud van Nistelrooy

Van Nistelrooy has made his peace with van Basten

"We did play some good games before but we didn't expect this either," the Real Madrid forward admitted. "We surprised ourselves a little bit but now we are in a good mood. We have a good squad of people, we are working hard and I think that is the main reason (for the performances)."

"I think this moment is the best I've been in with the national team. I joined in 1998 and that was also a good group (Dennis Bergkamp, Jaap Stam, Edgar Davids, Frank de Boer etc.). But I have to say that at the moment, I'm enjoying the way we are performing."

Apart from their opponents, most people are enjoying this latest Dutch renaissance under one of the game's legendary players and respected characters.

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