Sun, Jun 11, 2006 - Page 23 News List

Dutch, Balkan teams eye unity


The Netherlands, a team still without a World Cup title, plays its opener today against Serbia and Montenegro who has no state.

Both teams claim to have gained something that has been sorely lacking in the past -- a sense of unity among players.

Netherlands coach Marco van Basten wants to use that cohesion to make up for a lack of experience in midfield and defense. Serbia and Montenegro, which split up into two countries last month, needs it to cement its defense against a Dutch team that never hides its intentions.

It's a prolific Dutch offense led by English Premier League players Ruud van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie against the best defense from Europe's qualifying campaign.

Serbia and Montenegro, and Yugoslavia before it, has a long history of producing sterling individuals, but they rarely jelled into a tight team. Now, with the nation in tatters, the players stick together.

"We are optimists because we know how strong we are," Inter Milan's Dejan Stankovic said.

Even though Serbia and Montenegro had an injury scare to striker Mateja Kezman early this week, everything is falling into place in time for today's kickoff.

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