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Rafael van der VaartPhoto: ddp/LuebkeRafael van der Vaart

Golz asks... Rafael van der Vaart and Khalid Boulahrouz

Thursday, June 1, 2006

They are first choices in the Netherlands World Cup team - but both play in Germany, to be more exact, for Hamburg (HSV). How do the Dutch internationals rate Germany's chances at the World Cup? Wolfgang Golz puts that question to them both.

Mr. Boulahrouz, Mr. van der Vaart, first of all, the hardest question: Can you tell me why you think Germany will win the World Cup?

Khalid Boulahrouz: Sorry! There's no reason why Germany should win the World Cup.

Rafael van der Vaart: I can't imagine Germany winning the World Cup either. If that does happen, then it will be an act of God. Although, if you think about it too much, you get a funny feeling in your stomach. In any event, the whole country will get behind their team if they win their first couple of games. And you assume that will be the case when you look at the strength of the opposition in the group stage. And, as we all know, anything can happen in the knock-out rounds. Don't people always say Germany comes up with the goods in the finals? In spite of all that, Germany won't win the World Cup.

As a Dutch player, what comes to mind first when you think about football in relation to Germany: defeat in the 1974 World Cup Final or winning the semi-final of the 1988 European Championships?

Van der Vaart: I've been asked that question a lot. I think there are lots of people in my country who still haven't come to terms with losing the '74 Final. It's always said that we were the better team. My father says that as well. I wasn't even born then and therefore, I don't feel in a position to pass judgement. I do remember us winning the '88 semi-final. Marco van Basten scored the winning goal. That event has caught up with me in the meantime. That game was played in Hamburg.

Boulahrouz: I've only ever seen the games on video. The same is true for the match at the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy. They've always been very exciting encounters marked by the great rivalry between these two footballing nations. And that won't change. Germany versus Holland is always a special match.

You've come to Germany and your careers have really taken off. Is Germany a special place for you?

Boulahrouz: I owe a lot to HSV and my move to Germany. That's why I recently extended my contract. There's no greater motivation than the World Cup. But the fact that the World Cup is being held here acts as a special incentive.

Van der Vaart: It's a dream come true for me that the World Cup is being held in Germany, my chosen footballing home. I've already experienced the atmosphere in the World Cup stadiums - it's fantastic! That will definitely inspire me even more. Sadly, none of our games are being played in Hamburg.

Could you ever imagine playing football for Germany?

Boulahrouz: Are you joking?

Van der Vaart: Just imagine me saying, just before the start of the World Cup, I can see myself playing for Germany! I might as well just stay at home. No, I can't imagine it.

Putting my first question to one side: Who are your favourites for the World Cup? And why?

Van der Vaart: Brazil has got to be my first choice. If you catch that team on a good day, it's almost impossible to beat them. They've got players with great individual skill who can work hard too and they play as a team. After them, you've got teams like Italy, Spain, England, France, Argentina, Germany and Holland.

Khalid BoulahrouzPhoto: picture alliance / dpaKhalid Boulahrouz
Boulahrouz: Everybody goes for Brazil. But football often produces the unexpected. That's why my tip is Holland! We're starting off convinced that we really can do it. If you don't think you can win the title, you might as well not bother.

Nuremberg's coach Meyer spent several years in Dutch football. His conclusion is: Players in Holland are so wrapped up in their beautiful style of football that they become ineffective. Is that true?

Boulahrouz: To the best of my knowledge Mr. Meyer hasn't worked in Dutch football for years. You can tell him that things have changed recently.

Van der Vaart: Hans Meyer has just led Nuremberg away from relegation into a mid-table position. So you can't really contradict a man like that. Nevertheless, I don't share his opinion. I think it's gone past its sell-by date. We don't just stroke the ball around the pitch and let six goals in as a result. It is right to say that we play an attacking game. But, as far as tactics and commitment go, we're on a par with other top European teams.

What makes up the subtle elegance of Dutch football that German football lacks?

Van der Vaart: You can't ascribe subtlety and elegance to a nation as a whole. In Holland we've got players who aren't as skilful on the ball but who are a crucial part of their teams. At the moment we do possibly have more individual players. But in the end that doesn't have to be the deciding factor. We definitely train more with the ball in Holland. When I moved to HSV I first had to get used to the intensive fitness training. During my time at Amsterdam I never came across that sort of training regime.

Boulahrouz: We don't always play in a nimble and elegant style. I can assure you, if the going gets tough then we can get stuck in as well. The Germans don't just play the hard game. Although they lost the last World Cup Final, they played better than the Brazilians.

Mr. Boulahrouz, you've got African roots - are the African teams playing the football of the future?

Boulahrouz: People have assumed that for years. But no African team has won the World Cup yet. That won't change this time round either.

Mr. van der Vaart, Rudi Völler says Holland isn't one of the favourites for the World Cup. What do think about that?

Van der Vaart: That's his opinion. Two years ago in Portugal Rudi Völler also said Germany would be European Champions.

Rafael van der Vaart, 24, turned professional for Ajax Amsterdam at the age of 17. At Hamburg SV he has moved up to join the top ranks of European football. Holland's fans are hoping that their playmaker, noted for his ingenuity and goalscoring abilities, can lead the 'Oranjes' to victory in the World Cup Final.

Khalid Boulahrouz, 24, is one of the toughest defenders in the Bundesliga. His performances for HSV finally secured him a place in the Holland national side.

Sports journalist Wolfgang Golz in portrait.

Supporter of the Cameroonian national team, underneath: numerous German flags and fans