Euro 2012: Dutch Nightmare Becomes a Reality as They Finish Bottom of Group
UEFA Euro 2012 has so far been a nightmare tournament for the Dutch players and fans. Buoyed by their run to the final of World Cup 2010, the Netherlands looked set to cement their place amongst Europe's elite, despite a highly suspect defence, by simply being able to outscore anyone else.
The array of attacking talent at their disposal certainly suggested this would be the case.
Their two main strikers, Robin Van Persie and Klass-Jan Huntelaar, were both coming into the tournament in terrifying goal scoring form. Van Persie had just experienced his best ever season, scoring 37 goals in 48 games for Arsenal, and finishing as the league's top scorer, with 30 goals.
Huntelaar has arguably been even more impressive, scoring 48 goals in 47 games for Schalke 04, including a devastating run of form which saw him net 14 in 12 games in the Europa League.
On the wings were the industrious Dirk Kuyt, the mercurial Ibrahim Affelay, and Arjen Robben, arguably one of the best players in the world on his day.
With Van Persie able to drift out wide to make room for Huntelaar, everything looked set for the Netherlands to make a big impression this summer.
Despite being drawn in the supposed "group of death", the Dutch would have been confident against both the, perhaps, overachieving Denmark and the out-of-form Portugal.
Everything has not quite gone according to plan though.
A combination of selfishness, bad luck, poor defending, tactical ineptitude and Bert Van Marwijk insistence on playing two holding players has cost the Dutch dearly. They shockingly finish the group in last place, scoring two goals, and conceding five.
Typically with the Dutch, the accusations and finger pointing have already begun.
Before a ball was even kicked tonight, Robben, in a statement issued seemingly devoid of irony or self-awareness, blamed the "big egos" in the Dutch squad for their predicament following the opening two games.
And after Ronaldo's winning goal was scored this evening, it became clear who this criticism was aimed at the vice captain, and frequent bench warmer, Rafael Van Der Vaart.
The Bayern Munich winger could be seen berating the Spurs playmaker for his part in the goal, and it capped off what has been a disappointing tournament for Van Der Vaart.
Admittedly disappointed in his role in the team, he was the first player to level criticism at the Dutch coach. Van Marwijk responded by branding Van Der Vaart as a "spoilt child", who should be more accepting of his role in the team.
But the blame does not solely lie at Rafael's feet. Nor does it belong simply with the other "big egos" that Robben alluded to. This Dutch campaign has been a catalogue of errors built on false expectations, that have left a nation and a team humiliated.
Firstly, let's tackle the expectations. World Cup 2010 saw a different Dutch side from what was expected by fans worldwide, and suggested that a corner had been turned in the Dutch camp.
A run to the final characterised by solid and clinical performances demonstrated a togetherness in the Dutch team that had not been seen in years.
This was followed by an imperious qualifying campaign for this years Euros, with eight wins out of eight and a goal difference of plus-29. Combined with the terrifying goal scoring feats of their forwards, the high Dutch hopes were understandable coming into the tournament.
A closer inspection of the squad once it was revealed though, displayed obvious deficiencies, particularly in defence.
Any combination of centre-backs, be it Heitinga, Mathijsen, Bouma, Vlaar or Boulahrouz, was never going to be the most solid base for the team.
Bouma in particular was a surprising inclusion, having received no caps since the last European Championships. It was as if Van Marwijk simply wanted another experienced defender in the squad to fill the role vacated by Andre Ooijer, regardless of form or ability.
The other shocking name in the squad was 18-year-old left-back Jetro Willems, who had only won two caps for the senior national team. Although occasionally offering glimpses of his potential, he was far from the swashbuckling full back that his team often needed.
The defence overall therefore was made up of experienced average defenders, and inexperienced average defenders. As previously suggested, the Dutch were aware of this, and simply had faith in their attacking players pinning back the opposition to such a degree that the defence would be largely untroubled. However, against the considerable counter attacking talent of Germany and Portugal this was not to be the case.
It is here then that we come to Van Marwijk's tactical decisions, which in some cases were baffling.
True, the Dutch had played since the World Cup with two holding players, Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong. But going into the opening game against Denmark, an inferior group of players but, tellingly, a better team, it was widely considered that one should make way for a more attack-minded player.
While fans and pundits alike called for Van Der Vaart to start in this position, I would argue that it was in fact PSV midfielder Kevin Strootman who would have been the more logical, and effective, choice.
Van Der Vaart has proved time and time again, that he simply does not have the stamina, dynamism, or tactical discipline to play in the centre of the park. Strootman on the other hand, looked exactly the type of player that the Dutch needed.
Possessing the passing range and attacking intent lacking in both De Jong and Van Bommel, and the physicality and stamina Van Der Vaart could only dream of, Strootman looks tailor made to to star in this Dutch side. However, number of minutes played in this competition: zero.
It was this type of decision that typified the team's tournament. There appeared to be little regard to the opposition they were playing, tactical decisions seemingly based on the Steve McClaren 'throw on all your forwards' school of thought.
Despite my reservations, Van Der Vaart could have played against the Danes in place of De Jong. It was the game that they were most likely to get all three points, and so attempting to simply destroy the opposition with all out attack had the biggest chance of working.
Instead they lost 1-0, with both holding players starting, and the outcry for more attacking talents was huge.
The team was disjointed. There was little connection between Sneijder and the destroyers behind him.
But the team was also vastly unlucky. Van Persie in particular looked like he had been replaced by a doppelganger, fluffing multiple chances. And because of this, Van Marwijk stuck to his team against Germany.
Again, this proved a poor decision.
Against a Germany midfield built around constant movement, De Jong and the increasingly immobile Van Bommel, were over run. It seemed the perfect situation to introduce Strootman, a player who could help both the attack an defence. But Van Der Vaart was preferred once more, and unsurprisingly, the Dutch did indeed look more menacing going forward but continued to be caught out defensively.
Coming into the final, must win game against Portugal, Van Marwijk finally succumbed to the public call for Van Der Vaart to start in place of Van Bommel. In my opinion though, it was exactly this typeof game that both Van Bommel and De Jong may prove most effective.
Extra cover was required to repel Portugal's swift and dangerous counter attacks, and without both players the poor Dutch defence did indeed look exposed.
And so the Dutch crashed out, the team looking horribly lacking in both shape and confidence come the end of the match against the Portugese.
In my opinion it was these tactical decisions that proved most costly for the Dutch.
While the defence is indeed poor, this could have been more effectively countered by simply tailoring the rest of the team to the opposition.
Instead, Van Marwijk seemed to prefer loyalty to the players who got to the World Cup final, and then public opinion for more attacking intent.
It wasn't helped by under performing players of course.
Van Persie was arguably out of form coming into this tournament, and despite his goal against the Germans, continued this, missing chances we have seen him bury time and time again.
And Robben seemed to be unperturbed by the fact that every team had scouted his signature move of cutting inside to shoot on his favoured left foot, attempting it countless times regardless.
All in all, this was a nightmare tournament for the Dutch, who, in my opinion, need to go back to square one and look at building an effective team, beyond what led them to the World Cup final two years ago, whilst not reverting back to simply a talented group of individuals.
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