THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands squad that made the final cut on Thursday for the World Cup blends attacking flair with an aging defense.
Coach Bert van Marwijk unveiled a 23-man roster built around three players who starred in the Champions League final: Inter Milan's creative midfielder Wesley Sneijder, Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben and his teammate Mark van Bommel, who will play as a defensive midfielder.
Robben and Sneijder will be joined in attack by Robin van Persie, the Arsenal striker who marked his comeback after six months out of international soccer with two classy goals Wednesday when the Netherlands beat Mexico 2-1 in a warmup.
Van Marwijk's back four will likely include a pair of 35-year-olds — Andre Ooijer and Giovanni van Bronckhorst — alongside young Ajax right back Gregory van der Wiel and Joris Mathijsen, 30.
Van Marwijk cut Vurnon Anita of Ajax and Ron Vlaar of Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven midfielder Orlando Engelaar and AZ Alkmaar forward Jeremain Lens.
Anita's omission came just a day after he made his international debut as a second-half substitute.
Celtic left back Edson Braafheid got the nod instead of Anita, but only just.
"Braafheid can also play as a left-side center back," Van Marwijk said at the Dutch training camp in Austria. "Anita can also play on the right of defense, but we chose Gregory van der Wiel and Khalid Boulahrouz there. Boulahrouz hasn't played much this season, but I've seen him improving in training — he is quick and aggressive."
Vlaar forced his way into the preliminary squad with a strong season for Feyenoord, but was considered a long shot to go to South Africa and has missed much of the training camp in Austria with an injury. Lens also was a surprise inclusion in the original squad and was competing for a spot on the final team with the more experienced Ryan Babel of Liverpool and Eljero Elia of Hamburg.
"We watched Lens for 2½ weeks and concluded that he fell a little short of Babel and Elia," Van Marwijk said. "Lens is young. His time will come if he keeps improving."
Of the four players sent home on the eve of the World Cup, only Engelaar had experience at a major tournament, the 2008 European Championship.
"I think he was the most disappointed, and justifiably so," Van Marwijk said. "He had a tough time this season, but toward the end he reached his old level."
Van Marwijk's team plays Ghana and Hungary next week in home friendlies before leaving for South Africa, where the team will play in Group E with Denmark, Japan and Cameroon.
Goalkeepers: Sander Boschker (Twente), Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax), Michel Vorm (Utrecht)
Defenders: Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart, Germany), Edson Braafheid (Glasgow Celtic, Scotland), John Heitinga (Everton, England), Joris Mathijsen (Hamburg, Germany), Andre Ooijer (PSV Eindhoven), Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax)
Midfielders: Ibrahim Afellay (PSV Eindhoven), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City, England), Demy de Zeeuw (Ajax), Stijn Schaars (AZ Alkmaar), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan, Italy), Mark van Bommel (Bayern Munich, Germany), Rafael van der Vaart (Real Madrid, Spain)
Forwards: Ryan Babel (Liverpool, England), Eljero Elia (Hamburg, Germany), Klaas Jan Huntelaar (AC Milan, Italy), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool, England), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich, Germany), Robin van Persie (Arsenal, England)