8 Reasons the Netherlands Will Flop at Euro 2012

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2012

8 Reasons the Netherlands Will Flop at Euro 2012

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    Despite their wealth of attacking talent, the Netherlands are destined to disappoint at Euro 2012.

    Along with Spain and Germany, many soccer fans and experts have installed the Dutch as favorites to bring home the European crown.

    It does make sense at first.

    The Netherlands finished runners-up to Spain at the 2010 World Cup. Much of that same team remains two years later.

    However, the result was a bit of an aberration for the perpetually underachieving Dutch.

    This reputation the country has built over the decades will only grow stronger this summer in Poland and Ukraine, and here's why.

1. History

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    The Netherlands have managed to win only one international competition: the 1988 European Championships.

    Over almost the last four decades, the Dutch have been known to underwhelm in almost every competition. And it's not as if they didn't have golden opportunities either.

    One could make the argument that the Netherlands had the best squad at the 1976, 1992 and 2000 European Championships to go along with the 1974, 1978, 1990 and 1998 World Cup squads.

    And yet, 1988 remains the lone success.

    If you're going by history, there's really no reason to expect the Dutch to win anything.

    Sure they're coming off a World Cup in which they finished second, but that came from a Netherlands side that reached a defensive nadir unlikely to be seen again. And few can argue they truly deserved to win.

    It is actually defying expectations for the Dutch to actually play up to their ability.

2. "Group of Death"

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    Anytime there's an international competition, fans and pundits alike are always looking for the so-called "Group of Death."

    Most of the time, the label is a bit over the top. However, in the case of this year's Group B, it could not be more accurate.

    According to FIFA, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark are the Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 10 countries in the world, respectively.

    Finishing top of this group is almost like winning the entire competition itself.

    Four years ago, the Dutch were looking at a similar situation, when they were grouped with Italy, France and Romania. They actually managed to win every match, beating Italy by a score of 3-0 and France by a score of 4-1.

    In retrospect, though, both the Italians and French were a bit on the decline, which culminated in their exits in the group stage two years later.

    This year, Germany looks to be at the peak of their powers, or possibly even in the ascension stage still.

    Portugal has the hottest player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, and is playing much better under Paulo Bento.

    Denmark cannot be ignored either. The Dutch may have beaten the Danes, 2-0, at the 2010 World Cup, but this is a much-improved Denmark side. And Christian Eriksen is the kind of creative midfielder who can give the Netherlands fits.

    Even if the Dutch manage to escape from Group B, it may take everything they have, leaving nothing for the knockout phase.

3. Dutch Ideals

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    Only in Brazil may the debate between attractive soccer and results be more fervent.

    Very rarely are the most beautiful teams able to win in knockout tournaments.

    Especially with the recent successes of the Spanish national team and Barcelona, more and more teams and countries are playing defensively to counteract any attacking threats.

    The Netherlands did it two years to try and take out Spain in the final, but it didn't work.

    And the man who symbolizes Dutch soccer, Johan Cruyff, was absolutely aghast. He wrote in his column in El Periodico de Catalunya:

    Regrettably, sadly, they played very dirty. So much so that they should have been down to nine immediately, they made two ugly and hard tackles that even I felt the damage.

    This ugly, vulgar, hard, hardly eye-catching, lack of football style served the Dutch to unsettle Spain. If with this they got satisfaction, fine, but they ended up losing.

    Some practiced anti-football considering that it was the only way to survive. It finished 0-0 [after 90 minutes] because they [Spain] could not play as they wanted.

    For those who fall in the same camp as Cruyff, it would be better for the Netherlands to flame out while playing beautifully rather to win ugly.

    To a certain extent, it's hard to argue with him. Many consider the 1974 side to be one of the greatest of all time despite losing to West Germany in the World Cup final.

    It's the idealists like Cruyff who in a way condone the way the Netherlands have historically underperformed in major tournaments.

4. Abandoning Pragmatism

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    Coach Bert van Marwijk was castigated by the Dutch population and objective soccer supporters alike for the way the Netherlands performed at the 2010 World Cup.

    The team employed easily the most un-Dutch tactics imaginable.

    The lasting image from the tournament is Nigel de Jong's "karate kick" to Xabi Alonso in the final. De Jong only managed to get a yellow card for the foul.

    As a team, the Netherlands picked up eight yellow cards and committed 28 fouls. John Heitinga was sent off in extra time.

    It certainly wasn't fun to watch whatsoever, but it really might have been the only way for the Netherlands to beat Spain.

    They might have gone to the extreme, but they simply couldn't match the Spanish in the attack.

    Spain could rely on a back four that included Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Carles Puyol. The Dutch back line was nowhere near as talented, but more on that in the next slide.

    The Netherlands are going to have to deal with one big question: Do they want to flame out, or do they want to win a title?

    If they're going to win, they need to adopt the pragmatic approach that van Marwijk used at the World Cup.

    However, van Marwijk may bow to supporter sentiment and open the team up more on the field.

5. Defense

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    The Dutch have never been known for their stout defense.

    Sure the likes of Ronald Koeman, the de Boer twins and Jaap Stam have all donned the orange shirt, but the back line has always been a weak link.

    The doubts around the back four will most likely mean that Bert van Marwijk will play Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel as defensive midfielders.

    Possibly the biggest change from 2010 to now is the departure of left-back Giovanni van Bronckhorst. He captained the side after Edwin van der Sar retired.

    Van Bronckhorst's ability was much diminished by the last World Cup, but he was unquestionably the leader of the side.

    The side hasn't been able to find a replacement, either. Most likely, van Marwijk is going to deploy a midfielder out left.

    Stijn Schaars started at left-back in the friendly against Slovakia and came on as a substitute against Bulgaria.

    Urby Emanuelson is a name that's also been thrown about.

    Even at centre-back, there are serious questions. John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen don't inspire a ton of confidence.

    Gregory van der Wiel could be the lone bright spot. He's avoided a move abroad over the last couple of years, but this Euro is a real opportunity for van der Wiel to put himself in the shop window.

    Going back to the last slide, a move by van Marwijk to a more fluid, attacking style would put a ton of pressure on the back line. The likes of Mathijsen and Heitinga would be easily exposed, thus leaving the Dutch completely open on the counter.

6. Form of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder

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    Two years ago, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder were among the best players in the world.

    Sneijder helped Inter Milan win the Champions League and finished fourth in the Ballon d'Or voting.

    Robben scored two marvelous goals that helped Bayern Munich finish runners-up to Inter in the Champions League final.

    Fast forward to present day, and Inter has arguably been a better team without Sneijder on the pitch and Robben missed a penalty against Chelsea, which in all likelihood would have won Bayern the Champions League.

    If the Netherlands are going to win this tournament, Robben and Sneijder are going to have to play key roles.

    They're both players who want the ball when in the attack. It can be very difficult at times for the national team coach to try and placate their needs.

    Their selfishness is excused to a certain extent because of the ability they both have. If Robben and Sneijder are at their peak, there won't be a better combo at the Euros.

    However, If either or both of them struggle, their poor performances will be magnified because of the emphasis they have in the squad.

    It could lead to some serious issues in the dressing room, which would be nothing new to a Dutch national team.

    Of the two, Robben presents the larger problem.

    You have to wonder how much the missed penalty is going to mess with his psyche. Robben's the type of player who's very sure of himself, but once that doubt starts to creep in, he is a shell of himself.

7. What to Do with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin Van Persie

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    Bert van Marwijk's preferred formation is the 4-2-3-1 he used at the 2010 World Cup.

    Using one striker made a lot of sense two years ago because Robin van Persie was the clear No. 9.

    However, this year, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has made it very difficult for van Marwijk not to use him. Huntelaar's 29 goals in 32 games is a slightly better ratio than van Persie's 30 goals in 38 games.

    If van Marwijk is to use both, then Huntelaar will be the lone striker. He doesn't have the kind of versatility to line up anywhere else on the pitch.

    Van Persie was used on the right wing in the friendly against Bulgaria, and for what it's worth, Huntelaar has also been issued the No. 9 shirt.

    Whatever van Marwijk decides, one of the two is not going to be used properly, or possibly not at all.

    With a poor result against Denmark, the coach may be pressured to change the shape of the team to include both Huntelaar and van Persie up top, which could have huge knock-on effects for the rest of the tournament.

8. Penalties

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    Author David Winner devoted an entire chapter in his book, Brilliant Orange, to the Dutch view of the penalty kick.

    It was probably a good thing that Andres Iniesta scored in extra time to give Spain the victory. That way, the Dutch players would have been spared the embarrassment of losing the penalty shootout.

    Penalties are looked upon more derisively more by the Dutch than possibly any other country. For this reason, shootouts are looked upon as simply nothing more than a lottery.

    It's this kind of attitude that has cost the Netherlands titles.

    They were eliminated in the semifinals of both the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euros in shootouts.

    In the semifinal loss against Italy in 2000, the Netherlands actually managed to miss two penalties in normal time. Then, in the shootout, they then missed three, for a total of five in the entire match.

    If any match involving the Netherlands comes down to a penalty shootout, you can almost guarantee their opponents are going through.