In their first two matches against the Germans and Danes, the Dutch have looked terrible at the back and inefficient in the front. But they are very much still in the race to advance out of Group B. Germany have all but clinched the group, but with Portugal and Denmark each on three points, the Netherlands have a chance.
If they can defeat Portugal by two goals and if Germany beats Denmark, the Dutch will advance. However, if they play the way they have in the first two matches, Portugal should be able to get the result they need.
Primarily, the Netherlands need to play to their strengths more. The Dutch have started each of the first two games with two holding midfielders in Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong. Neither has looked particularly comfortable on the ball, and both have disappeared for large stretches of the games.
In addition, with wingers Arjen Robben and Ibrahim Afellay showing an unwillingness to get back, de Jong and van Bommel have been stretched out wide, thus not allowing them to protect the suspect back four.
Without question, the Dutch are most dangerous going forward. They have a tremendous amount of attacking talent and with Sneijder and van Persie have the ability to play a possession-style game. Portugal, though talented, are no Spain, and the Dutch should be able to control the tempo.
Logically, it makes sense that manager Bert van Marwijk has provided his weak defense with an extra shield. However, it has not worked and has limited the offensive attack. Aside from simply trying something new, the Dutch should work to emphasize what they are good at.
Adding Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at the expense of either van Bommel or de Jong will increase the attacking threat that the Dutch possess. With Sneijder and van Persie in the middle and Robben and Afellay on the wings, the Netherlands will trot out four players who can create their own shot or provide service to Huntelaar, a classic poacher.
With that much attacking power, it is possible—maybe even likely—that there will be defensive lapses. But there have been defensive lapses without the overload on goal scorers, and the Dutch have the personnel and mindset to play a possession-style game.
To reverse a common saying, “the best defense is a good offense.” If Portugal cannot get the ball, it will be difficult to score. Nani and Ronaldo are excellent on the break, but the striker position has provided the Portuguese with much heartbreak over the years. A few lucky breaks may be all the Dutch need to keep a clean sheet.
The Netherlands are loaded with offensive talent, and putting it all on the field at once may be the best way to win. If the Dutch can simply outscore Portugal, victory—and the all-important goal differential—will be theirs.
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