Dutch must look to the past and the future

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By Theo Ruizenaar

ROTTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk needs to learn lessons from his predecessor's troubles when he takes his side to South Africa.

Marco van Basten twice steered the Netherlands through tough group phases, at the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 European championship, only to see them fall in the first knockout round.

In 2006, the Netherlands qualified second in their group behind Argentina but were then knocked out by Portugal in a bad-tempered match.

Two years later, in the European event, they brushed aside World Cup finalists Italy and France to finish top of their group but fell to Guus Hiddink's Russia in Basel.

Van Marwijk took over after the disappointing 2008 campaign and brought his team through qualifying with eight straight wins, and he knows he must keep his team sharp and in form with one eye on the knockout stage.

Mental strength was important too, Van Marwijk said, with the team needing to have more belief in their abilities.

"I have tried...to drill a stronger self-belief into the players but it is a process," the coach said earlier this year.

This time, the Dutch will face Denmark, Cameroon and Japan in Group E. The lack of strong resistance in a qualifying group featuring Iceland, Scotland, Macedonia and Norway gave Van Marwijk little idea about the possibilities of his side.

With a team bursting with big names, the Dutch, runners-up in 1974 and 1978, should be one of the strongest sides in the world.

Van Marwijk is spoilt for choice in attack where Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie will vie for places.

Hopes that Ruud van Nistelrooy might return from international retirement vanished when Van Marwijk said there was not enough time for the striker to regain fitness after a knee injury.

The coach has former internationals Phillip Cocu and Frank de Boer -- who both have experience of the World Cup semi-finals -- as his assistants and plans to stick to the 4-2-3-1 formation that Van Basten put in place.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)