THE HAGUE - The captain and coach of the Dutch football team were knighted in the presence of the prime minister yesterday, who called the team an "inspiration" after their 1-0 World Cup defeat by Spain.
"The Netherlands is proud of Oranje (Orange - the colour and nickname of the national team)," Jan Peter Balkenende, the premier, told the team at his official residence in The Hague, where he hosted them to coffee and cakes with orange icing in a garden decorated with orange balloons.
Balkenende, wearing an orange tie, looked on as Ab Klink, the minister of sport, pinned medals on team coach Bert van Marwijk and captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst to mark them as Knights in the Order of Orange-Nassau.
The knighthoods are bestowed by Dutch Queen Beatrix.
"A fantastic achievement," said Klink as he decorated the two men in a reception broadcast live on public television.
Van Bronckhorst, retiring after the World Cup, said the disappointment was still heavy, but thanked the squad for a "good tournament", and dedicated the decoration to them.
Balkenende described the squad as "a disciplined collective with a mission" and "a source of inspiration".
"So near and yet so far," he said, adding that the image of the Spanish goal "is engraved on all our retinas".
"It was a blow for the Netherlands, a blow for you as players, a blow for Orange supporters." But Balkenende urged the footballers to pick themselves up and aim for the next World Cup. "Let's not wait another 32 years for a World Cup final. Revenge is waiting."
The players, who arrived back in the Netherlands on Monday, were to meet the Queen at her working palace elsewhere in The Hague before departing for Amsterdam for a ceremonial boat parade on the canals that is expected to be attended by hundreds of thousands of supporters. - Sapa-AFP