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If two weeks ago someone had told me that the Netherlands, the current World vice-champions, are going to lose all three of their games in the Euro 2012 Group B, I’d have laughed at them. But they would have been absolutely correct in their prediction, because the Dutch performed badly, lost everything, and are going home without a single point.
This is the first time in European Championships history that Holland doesn’t win even one point. Their participation this year started with a surprising 1-0 defeat to Denmark, followed by two 2-1 losses to Germany and Portugal.
But what are the reasons for their shockingly mediocre performance? Because not only did they not get the results, they didn’t really demonstrate their typical game that we’ve got used to seeing in the last couple of years.
The Netherlands have always been considered favorites, no matter whether they were playing in the World Cup, the Euros, or even just a friendly game. This year was no exception, especially after a very strong performance in South Africa in 2010 and a really good qualifying campaign for the competition in Poland and Ukraine.
In reality, few of us could see that for the last 6-7 months the situation in the team wasn’t so good. Some alarms had to be raised, some questions had to be asked. But no such thing was done.
From November, 2011 till this June the Dutch played 7 friendlies, of which they won just 3. It was exactly last winter that Bert van Marwijk should have understood that something was wrong with his team. A draw against Switzerland and a heavy 3-0 defeat to Germany were recorded in less than a weak.
In February they won against England at Wembley, a lucky 3-2 victory. And then it was time for the serious build-up to the Euro 2012; less than a month ago they lost to Bayern Munich and Bulgaria. Media in the country tore the manager and the team apart, but things soon became normal again, after they won against Slovakia and Northern Ireland in their last two games before the Championship itself.
Now, I’m not going to analyze each game they played in Ukraine, I’d rather focus on the reasons they failed to qualify for the knockout stages, and also- why they failed to impress as a whole.
Reason №1 is the imbalanced squad. While the Netherlands have some brilliant players up front, their defence is not all that solid. Don’t get me wrong, John Heitinga, Ron Vlaar, Joris Mathijsen, Gregory van der Wiel and Jetro Willems are all decent players, but they are not world-class. If you’ve watched all of their games in the group, you’ve probably noticed how many mistakes were made. Bad positioning, slow movement on and off the ball, poor technique- those are just some of the things we could say about the defenders. Had it not been for the keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, the Dutch would have conceded twice as many as the 5 goals they did.
Reason №2 is that most of the key players didn’t turn up during the tournament. Because, to be fair, in all three games they dominated possession and had lots of chances on goal. But they couldn’t convert. Where was Robin van Persie, where was Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, what happened to Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder? Van Persie and Huntelaar scored 85 goals in total for their club teams last season; still, they managed just 1 during the Euros, scored by the Arsenal captain against Germany.
Reason №3 is the head coach himself. Bert van Marwijk allowed himself to say things in front of the media, especially after the defeat against Germany, which must have proliferated the tension in the Dutch camp: ‘Our wingers never threatened their defence and lacked pace.’ That’s what the manager said after the German game, talking about Robben and Ibrahim Afellay. Even if it’s true, it’s not a good idea to make such statements in front of the media. Signaling out individuals, be it for good or bad performances, always has a negative effect on the side.
Reason №4 is again the gaffer, although this time it’s because of his tactics and selection policy. First of all, he didn’t seem to have a clear idea of which two should be his starting central defenders, as it was Heitinga and Vlaar against Denmark, then it was Heitinga and Mathijsen against Germany, and in the end it was Vlaar and Mathijsen against Portugal. Then, in the first two games he opted to name Afellay in the starting XI, although the winger has played just 5 games last season and was clearly not in the best of forms. Also, in the game against Germany he made two changes at half time. This was like admitting that he’d picked the wrong side, as it’s very rarely that we see two changes made at once during the break, unless there’re injuries that have to be dealt with, of course. Another thing is that Rafa van der Vaart didn’t get enough playing time in this tournament. 20 minutes against Denmark, one half against Germany and a full 90 minutes (during which he scored) against Portugal. I could also mention the fact that in the game against Cristiano Ronaldo & Co., van Marwijk made just one change when it was crucial for his team to win by two or more goals. You don’t give up…you can’t, and you mustn’t.
In the end, Reason №5 is the problems with the team spirit and all those big egos out there. The players should understand that none of them are bigger than the team, than the country. And if some of them don’t know this- it’s the manager’s job to help them do so. Instead, we got Robben and Sneijder talking about this in front of journalists and saying that they’re starting to get fed up with this problem.
But whatever we say, the Netherlands are out of the Euro 2012. One of the favorites to win the thing, they didn’t even manage to get a point. They disappointed their fans, their compatriots and the pundits who had them as one of the likeliest winners. But after their showing in Ukraine in the last two weeks, did they really deserve to get something out of the tournament? No, they didn’t! It will be interesting to see what will happen with Oranje, but I expect some serious commotions in the near future.