Euro 2008: Have the Dutch peaked too early?
I am sure even the most biased Italian fans would agree that the Netherlands were outstanding last night in their 3-0 victory over the World Champions.
In a superb match that Italy certainly contributed to excellently at times themselves, the Netherlands scored two brilliant counter-attacking goals and had a plethora of awesome individual performances, from Wesley Sneijder to Gio Van Bronckhorst.
Many pundits are now tipping the Dutch to win Euro 2008. While based on last night's performance they are clearly contenders, I do not believe they will win the tournament—they might not even make the semifinals, or amazingly even get out of their group.
You may well wonder why. Well, cast your mind back just two years, to the World Cup of 2006. Jose Pekerman's Argentina shot out of the blocks in a familiar "group of death."
They beat Ivory Coast 2-1 in a superb match, then followed that up with the phenomenal 6-0 destruction of hapless Serbia, complete with one of the best World Cup goals of all-time when a technically brilliant, patient, probing move was finished by Esteban Cambiasso.
Most people at this stage were wondering who could possibly beat Argentina. They looked head and shoulders above everyone else, and some were already handing them the trophy.
After a relatively dull draw with The Netherlands in the final group game, they then featured in another brilliant match in Round Two against Mexico, playing with 10 men for most of the match before winning with a wonderful goal from Maxi Rodriguez in extra time.
They had been tested, but still progressed, and it seemed their name was on the trophy.
They then lost in the quarter finals on penalties to Germany, looking a shadow of their former selves as the Germans suffocated them with pressure and passion.
This is tournament football. One, two, three, even four great performances are all well and good, but if you lose game five, you are going home with nothing.
Euro 2004 looked like it would belong to the Czech Republic—they superbly topped a group featuring both the Netherlands and Germany, beating the Dutch wonderfully 3-2 on the way through. Denmark proved no match for them in the quarter finals, with a 3-0 win comprehensive and threatening for the rest.
Next up was Greece in the semis, they had unbelievably knocked out France, but surely the Czechs would dispatch the Greeks with relative ease. It didn't happen, as the Greeks made history with an extra-time winner and went on to lift the trophy.
It remains to be seen whether The Netherlands will repeat last night's brilliant form, whether they will drop off but still progress, or whether they will not see those heights again and just be a memory as they are knocked out early.
What is clear is that nothing can be drawn from the opening of a major tournament.
France were dismal yesterday against Romania, but two years ago I remember seeing an equally dismal France draw 0-0 with Switzerland, and then 1-1 with South Korea, before needing an unconvincing 2-0 win over unheralded Togo to qualify for the knock-out stage. They ended up in the World Cup final.
Italy started brightly against Ghana in World Cup 2006, but were then held to a dismal draw by the USA in their second match, and laboured to a fortunate 1-0 win over Australia in the second round. They ended up winning the World Cup.
The team that laughs last, laughs loudest...
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