Dream close to reality for Dutch fans

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Roland Mollen's dream, like that of every Dutchman, is 90 minutes from coming true. Sort of.

He's heard tales of the legendary "Clockwork Orange," the Netherlands teams -- led and inspired by Johan Cruyff -- that conquered the soccer world in every manner except the one that matters most.

He remembers the great 1988 Oranje, Marco van Basten's "impossible" goal, and the manic celebrations that followed.

And he knows none of it will come close to what awaits Sunday if Holland, tiny Holland, finishes off a perfect run through the World Cup with a triumph in the final over Spain.

That's his dream, and nothing will dampen the joy for him and his long-suffering countrymen if it comes true. But could it be even better? You bet.

Spain might be the world's best soccer team, but beating the best isn't quite what Mollen calls "the most beautiful scenario you could ever wish for."

The Spaniards ended that in their comprehensive dissection of Germany in Thursday's semifinal. A day earlier, after watching his Oranje outclass Uruguay to reach its first World Cup final since 1978, the 33-year-old from San Juan Capistrano couldn't believe how everything was falling perfectly into place.

"This is the best team I've seen since '88, for sure," said Mollen, who gathered with others from the Dutch In Orange County club at the Olde Ship British Pub & Restaurant to watch Holland's semifinal victory. "It has so much firepower in the team. … I'm impressed by the way they bond, the way they fight for each other, the joy they seem to have at playing the game.

"Just incredible. They could do it. They could really do it."

But with the Dutch, it's all about Germany and the Nazis' World War II occupation of their country. Cruyff & Co. tried to humiliate the Germans in the 1974 World Cup final, but their game of keep-away after a brilliant opening sequence to score the first goal was overpowered by the machine.

This time was going to be different. And the way Germany was playing, especially in the four-goal masterpieces over England and Argentina, there seemed no question about the Dutch opposition in the title game.

"It's the most difficult route to win the Cup," Mollen said, "but it would be the most beautiful scenario you could ever wish for. Because of the rivalry and the history we have with Germany. It would be the dream final."

So Sunday's championship game at Soccer City in Soweto isn't a dream final, but to win -- could anything be better? Not to the 120 or so members of Dutch In Orange County, many of whom skipped work -- or took a long, long lunch break -- to watch Holland reach its first World Cup final since 1978.

Maarten Andriessen, like Mollen, is too young to recall that game, which the Dutch lost in overtime to Argentina.

"I do remember Johan Cruyff, more as a veteran soccer player in the '80s and as a commentator on TV," he says. "As somebody who would always be sitting there, giving his opinion on the game and all that kind of stuff."

Andriessen, 36, and his wife, Julia Ferguson, 46, who live in Orange, started Dutch In Orange County three years ago to connect with others like them. He's from IJsselstein, and she's an American -- from Anaheim -- who in the 1990s connected with a group of people on the Internet, went to visit, stayed with Maarten's family and fell in love.

They married in 1999 and moved to California after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

"After Sept. 11," Ferguson said, "I thought, man, they're going to tighten up the borders. I wanted him to have the option of dual citizenship, and my mom's alone, and I didn't want to have to deal with immigration issues."

They made contact with the larger Dutch community in Los Angeles, but, Andriessen said, the long drives were wearing, "so me and my wife thought, hey, why don't we set something up" online.

It started with just two or three others, then grew steadily, among expats, children of Dutch immigrants, and those with a fondness for Dutch culture.

That's how they met Mollen. His wife, Shelley, is from Whittier, and she always wanted to return to California, so in 2006 they sold their home in Eindhoven and headed over.

"All my family is Dutch," he said. "They all live there. My family and my friends. Pretty much everybody I know lives in Holland. I have to build a new life here."

A Google search led Mollen to Andriessen and Ferguson and other Dutch in the area.

"The Dutch, they don't seek each other out, per se," Mollen said. "If it happens, great, but they're not going to look for it. I think this club is great, because we do a lot of different things. … I think I'm more proud to be Dutch here than I was in Holland. Because it's kind of a novelty. It's a small country. And it's kind of fun to talk about your experiences as an immigrant and hang out with Dutch people; why not?"

Ferguson can relate. She moved to IJsselstein in 1997, and adapting to the Dutch culture wasn't always easy.

"What I always like to say," she said, "is we lived in the real Holland. Real Netherlands. We were in the center of the country. Most people in IJsselstein didn't speak English. It wasn't like Amsterdam, where [there are so many] immigrants.

She turned her experience into a business. She's a "life coach," helping immigrants through culture shock and building a lifestyle and network of friends in a strange land.

Ferguson learned to love "voetbal," as the Dutch call it, especially Oranje voetbal, while in Holland. She was around for the 1998 World Cup, when Holland reached the semifinals.

"I dyed my hair orange," she said, "and I fell in love with that team, with the De Boer brothers [Frank and Robert], with [Phillip] Cocu, the guy who wore the goggles -- Edgar Davids. And I thought, OK, this isn't too hard to follow. I like this. The action is fun, it's always moving, it's not like American football where, you know, play-stop-play-stop. … I think soccer is a lot more fun to watch."

Andriessen was 14 when Holland, on van Basten's magnificent goal against the Soviet Union, won the European Championship in 1988, the country's only major title.

"I was just a tad bit young to get into the bars," he said, "but I went downtown, and the entire downtown area was going crazy. The entire street where all the bars are, everybody was on the street, everybody was yelling and screaming. Everything was orange. I was a tad bit young to get into the bars, but I still had a good time."

Holland goes nuts for its team at every World Cup, every European Championship, but what's happening now is special. Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben are incredible attackers, Dirk Kuyt's fight has been so important on the left flank, and Mark van Bommel's midfield foundation has enabled everything to work almost perfectly.

"I honestly didn't think they'd get this far," Andriessen said. "I'm very happy that they get this far. And it wasn't until the [quarterfinal victory over] Brazil and [beating] Uruguay that the Dutch team started getting loose and making the plays and getting goals."

"We are unbeaten so far," Ferguson noted. "So what we've got to do now is win the final."

Mollen has ensured it will happen.

"My wife is not a big soccer fan, but she watches the Dutch national team play," he said. "It occurred to me last World Cup and last European Cup that they seem to be losing every time she walked into the room. I started to think about the World Cup. And I told her: 'How about if I give you $50 for every game the Dutch play that you don't watch."

Shelley Mollen took the dough. And after making $250, for the group-stage wins, the round-of-16 victory over Slovakia, and the quarterfinal win over Brazil, she upped her price: $150 per game.

"She really wanted to be part of this, and she knows she's missing out," Mollen said. The price is well worth it. "I told her if they won the World Cup, she's more than welcome to join the party after, but we have to keep this up until the final game is over."

Scott French is author of the Football Futbol Soccer blog on ESPNLosAngeles.com.