Sports

Up-and-down, down-and-up: the conflicting tales of Belgium, Netherlands at the World Cup

FILE - In this Sunday, July 11, 2010 file photo, Netherlands' Nigel de Jong, left, fouls Spain's Xabi Alonso during the World Cup final soccer match between the Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City in Johannesburg, South Africa. The days of fluent, attacking "total football" are long gone for the Netherlands. Now, results matter more than the way they are achieved. Anybody expecting the Netherlands to revert to the type of free-flowing attacking play that was long the hallmark of Orange teams when Louis van Gaal’s team takes on Spain on Friday should think again. Van Gaal has signaled he will likely play five defenders against Spain to stifle the defending world champion’s own fluent attacking style. That could revive memories of the brutal 2010 final in which eight Dutch players were booked and one sent off. Robin van Persie said Sunday he has no regrets about the 2010 campaign.“I think we can look back with pride” at 2010, he says.  (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza, file)

FILE - In this Sunday, July 11, 2010 file photo, Netherlands' Nigel de Jong, left, fouls Spain's Xabi Alonso during the World Cup final soccer match between the Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City in Johannesburg, South Africa. The days of fluent, attacking "total football" are long gone for the Netherlands. Now, results matter more than the way they are achieved. Anybody expecting the Netherlands to revert to the type of free-flowing attacking play that was long the hallmark of Orange teams when Louis van Gaal’s team takes on Spain on Friday should think again. Van Gaal has signaled he will likely play five defenders against Spain to stifle the defending world champion’s own fluent attacking style. That could revive memories of the brutal 2010 final in which eight Dutch players were booked and one sent off. Robin van Persie said Sunday he has no regrets about the 2010 campaign.“I think we can look back with pride” at 2010, he says. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza, file)  (The Associated Press)

Together, they are called the Low Countries — the Netherlands and Belgium united by the flatness of their lands. At the World Cup though, it has been all ups and downs.

It seemed that whenever one neighbor was sinking, another soared. By the looks of it this year, they may be passing by each other again, with the Dutch going down, craning their necks as the Belgians go up.

That is before Game 1 of the World Cup kicks off, of course. However, Belgium has already achieved a rare standing among their northern neighbors: admiration.

Ruud Gullit, captain of the Dutch team which won the 1988 European championship, says that in the Netherlands "people feel good that the Belgians are finally able to show" their abilities.