On Monday night, the Dutch national football team flies to Latin America, where they take on Brazil in Goiânia on 4 June. Four days later they face Uruguay in Montevideo.
While Holland may be tempted to switch to holiday mode, Brazil and Uruguay are gearing up for the high-profile Copa América tournament, scheduled to start in Argentina on 1 July.
“The pressure will be on the host teams, which could be both an advantage and a disadvantage,” says defender Hedwiges Maduro. “We’ll feel more loose, more relaxed perhaps. But we can’t be too relaxed, because we might get punished for it.”
Last week, roughly half the squad met at their Hoenderloo training camp in Holland’s wooded east. The others still had matches to play or were given rest after a long season.
Unlike some of his teammates, Maduro looks in great shape. “I feel fit, and perhaps I’m fitter than other players; because I had an ankle problem last week, I spent quite some time doing weight-training at the gym. So, yes, I feel good.”
No fewer than five players have called off with injuries or signs of fatigue. They include skipper Mark van Bommel, Tottenham playmaker Rafael van der Vaart and new Ajax signing Theo Janssen.
“I can understand perfectly well why players decide to give this trip a miss,” Maduro says. “The football calendar is very crowded. And don’t forget it’s been a long season, particularly for those who took part in last year’s World Cup.”
With so many midfielders absent, Maduro’s chances of playing one South American friendly – or perhaps both – have increased markedly. The Valencia star looks forward to encountering Brazilian wonderkid Neymar. “He’s a superb talent, with lots of skills and scoring easily too. Very dangerous.”
When reminded that with him on the team, Holland has never lost a match, Maduro smiles. “That’s right, perhaps you should tell the manager.”