That’s six points from two games in this series of international games and grand total of nine points from three games in this World Cup Qualifying series, so far. A 100% record is never a bad thing, wouldn’t you agree? But seeing as we Dutch are World Champions at moaning and complaining, let’s just re-cap the past two games.
Can’t really complain about those. We beat Iceland 2-0 in Rotterdam, where we were comfortable throughout the contest and secured all three points thanks to a goal in each half from Joris Mathijsen and Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
Mathijsen struck after 14 minutes, reacting first to a low cross to the near post from Rafael van der Vaart. Ryan Babel and Huntelaar had chances soon after to extend the lead before the later eventually did so on 64 minutes with a low left-footed shot. Once again, Van der Vaart supplied the assist.
Next up, we beat Norway 1-0 in Osla, where a Mark van Bommel strike was enough for us to preserve our 100% record in Group 9 and ensure a perfect send-off for goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar after 130 caps.
The FC Bayern München midfielder scored the only goal in Oslo on 63 minutes when he fired a weak Brede Hangeland clearance low into the corner from 20 metres out. That goals makes it three wins in as many matches for Bert van Marwijk's team.
After Van Bommel's goal, the Dutch looked comfortable and the benched Bayern skipper almost doubled the lead a minute before the final whistle, only to fire the ball past the wrong side of the post. Dirk Kuyt also rattled the bar with a superb strike but the damage had already been done and, ominously for the Group 9 chasers, Van Marwijk's team have already established a five-point cushion in the standings.
Nothing too fancy, but we maintained a 100% record, kept two clean sheets at the back, scored three goals and established a five-point cushion towards Scotland.
The basic formation employed against both Iceland and Norway has been similar to the one Van Basten used during our Euro 2008 campaign. Van Marwijk has made a few changes to it though. Let’s have a look at Van Marwijk’s basic formation.
For starters, he’s no longer working with three central attacking midfielders that drift wide at times. The reason is simple, increased defensive stability.
This means he has made a choice between Van der Vaart and Sneijder. Both players don't really like to defend. Sure, they'll make the occasional run back, but they prefer to stay upfront. This means that when a coach fields both players, he has to compensate for both players not really performing a lot of defensive duties.
By not fielding either one as a winger of defensive midfielder, he has made the team stronger in defence. Kuyt is playing as a right winger and he will always cover for his team-mates defensively. On the left wing, Babel/Robben/Van Persie generally do the same, so the team has become stronger defensively. This means the tactics are designed to relieve pressure for our defence, which isn’t exactly world class. All in all, well done Bert.
Second of all, the wider formation should ensure a more attacking form of football. Being a nation of moaning tarts, Van Basten was criticized for playing defensive football. Looking at this formation, Van Marwijk’s intentions are more attacking. Mind you, his intentions, I’m not mentioning the performances on the pitch.
The player ratings
For the match against Iceland, these are my player ratings.
Edwin van der Sar – 7,5/10
Solid, steady and reliable, unlike Iceland’s banks these days... Perhaps we should consider cloning him or putting him into cryogenic sleep, so he can represent us in South Africa.
Dirk Marcellis – 6/10
Marcellis made his debut for “Oranje” against Iceland and he did okay for a rookie. He’s generally used as a centre-back at PSV, so he was fielded in an unnatural position. Considering all this, he did okay. He never got into trouble defensively, but as was to be expected he was average going forward.
André Ooijer – 6,5/10
He was given a place in the starting line-up due to the absence of Khalid Bouhlarouz and John Heitinga and did well. Won the duels with the Icelandic forwards he encountered. Solid passing as well, only 2 poor passes in 63 attempts. Nice.
Joris Mathijsen – 7/10
Defending isn’t really his cup of tea. Joris is just too nice and friendly to be a mean, brutal defender on the highest level. Despite this short-coming, he did okay against Gudjohnson and he even scored a goal today. Credit where it is due, well done.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst – 6,5/10
Because Iceland only fielded one forward, Gio was allowed to move forward a lot and play as an extra midfielder. This worked out well for him, his passing was once again superb and the added man in midfield ensured Iceland never really became dangerous. Fair play, Gio.
Mark van Bommel – 7/10
Seemed to be struggling a bit at first, the insecurity of losing his spot at Bayern was visible in the way he played, but he quickly restored and became the hard-hitting midfielder he can be for us.
Nigel de Jong – no rating
Ran into an Icelandic block-tackle early on and had to be replaced with what appears to be a minor injury.
Ryan Babel – 7,5/10
One of our most dangerous forwards, he was superb. Iceland’s Ragnar Sigurdsson will have left the pitch traumatized. He was unable to stop Babel, even fouling him hardly seemed to work. One little point of critique, the finishing was below par, Ryan.
Rafael van der Vaart – 7,5/10
Provided the assist for both our goals and was generally the dominant and intelligent attacking midfielder he is for Real Madrid on a weekly basis. Superb technique and vision, Van der Vaart played really well in the centre of the pitch.
Dirk Kuyt – 6,5/10
Dirk covered a lot of ground and worked his arse off for the team, as per usual. Unfortunately, he isn’t a real winger, so his crossing tends to be off. Still, I don’t mind Dirk playing because of his tremendous work-rate. He makes up for Huntelaar and Van der Vaart being lazy bastards defensively.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – 7,5/10
Played a decent match upfront. His control was good, his passing was good and he scored a goal, which he clinically put away. What more can you ask from your man upfront?
Demy de Zeeuw – 5,5/10
Average at best. He did okay defensively in replacing HSV’s Nigel de Jong, who was out with an injury, but he added nothing extra when the team was going forward.
Ibrahim Afellay – no rating
The PSV player was on the pitch for a mere twenty minutes. It would hardly be fair to give him a rating for that.
Wesley Sneijder – no rating
The Real Madrid player was on the pitch for a mere eight minutes. It would hardly be fair to give him a rating for that.
For the match against Norway, these are my player ratings.
Edwin van der Sar – 7/10
A few slip-ups, caused by a wet and slippery ball, but he stopped everything the Norwegians threw at him. Admittedly, they didn’t really do much, bar a few headers by Carew and some long-range efforts by Riise. Unfortunately for the Roma midfielder, most of his shots ended up in the stands.
Dirk Marcellis – 5,5/10
A decent, sober performance for the team’s rookie. He did okay in his second international appearance for the national team, but he was nothing special. He got a lot of space to move forward, but he was never a threat to Norway going forward. Most passes were back towards Ooijer instead of forward to one of the midfielders or strikers.
André Ooijer – 6/10
He’s not getting any younger, but he performed very well for us. He’s still one of our physically and mentally strongest defenders, which sort of shows our problem at the back. He was given a place in the starting line-up due to the absence of Khalid Bouhlarouz and John Heitinga and did well. Solid passing as well.
Joris Mathijsen – 5,5/10
Never really got going against Carew. He wasn’t able to beat the Norwegian target-man in the air and he isn’t ferocious enough when he tries to take on his opponent. No real top striker will fear Mathijsen, he’s like the ideal son-in-law, simply too nice…
Giovanni van Bronckhorst – 6/10
Due to an apparent lack of proper left wing-backs (what about Tim de Cler or Erik Pieters, Bert?!), we’re still fielding veteran midfielder Gio as a left wing-back. His stamina and physique are not as good as they used to be a few years ago, but experience makes up for deteriorating physique. He’s always in the right spot and his passing is generally very good.
Mark van Bommel – 7/10
Were you watching this match, Jürgen Klinsmann? This is the Van Bommel his fans know and admire and his adversaries hate and fear… He was one of the best players on the pitch, winning balls, winning whenever he faced off with a Norwegian midfielder, impeccable passing, some very nice long passes and some dangerous runs forward. One of those runs resulted in a goal, the other one should’ve resulted in a goal but was blasted just wide. Every team needs a player like him and that, Herr Klinsmann, is why your Bayern-side would benefit greatly if you would field our Mark.
Demy de Zeeuw – 5,5/10
Pretty much the same as the previous match, average at best sums up De Zeeuw nicely. He did okay defensively in replacing HSV’s Nigel de Jong, who was out with an injury, but he added nothing extra when the team was going forward.
Ryan Babel – no rating
Started out well enough, by skipping past a few sluggish Norwegian defenders and causing havoc in the Norse defence. Norwegian defenders may be big, they’re also slow. Morten Gamst Pedersen quickly stopped the threat of Babel with a nasty foul on the ankle.
Rafael van der Vaart – 6,5/10
We all know Rafael is an artiste extra-ordinaire if he wants to be, he can perform magic with his left foot. Against the physically strong blonde Vikings, he never really got going. His first touch and superb passing were important, but he was nowhere near as dominant as he once was for HSV and currently is for Real Madrid. I hope Van Marwijk can sort this out.
Dirk Kuyt – 6,5/10
Some people like him, some people don’t. I like him and his style of play. He’s not a real right winger, but he makes the best out of it, covering most of the right wing and harassing defenders and midfielders there. To be fair, his first touch was abysmal at times, as was his passing at several occasions, but he makes up for that by winning a lot of balls and generally working his ass off for the team. If only we could cross-breed Kuyt with Van der Vaart. A player with Van der Vaart’s technique and vision and Kuijt’s physique and attitude…
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – 4,5/10
Falling over a lot is not a quality top-teams look for in a striker, mate. He never really got going against the tough Vikings. Hageland pretty much marked him out of the match and he never really got a chance to show his lethal prowess inside the box, unless you consider being off-side a lot a sign of prowess. He was rightfully substituted.
Ibrahim Afellay – 6,5/10
He replaced Babel early in the first half and to be honest, I was impressed with Afellay. Some menacing runs down the left wings, a few decent crosses, excellent control and superb passing. His rating could’ve been higher had he put away the 100% chance he got just before the break. At this level, you have to put chances like that away. He needs to work on his efficiency.
Robin van Persie – 5,5/10
To be fair, I expected more from Robin. He’s potentially one of the best players in the world, but he seems to limit himself to showing us glimpses of how good he can be if he really wants to. Against Norway, he didn’t show us anything. On the bright-side, he worked hard and covered some distances upfront harassing Norwegian defenders. At least his attitude has improved and even when he’s playing a poor match, he’s working hard for the team.
Wesley Sneijder – no rating
The Real Madrid player was on the pitch for a mere fifteen minutes. It would hardly be fair to give him a rating for that.
The coach ratings
Being a national coach is tough. It’s not easy at all, so let’s have a look at how Bert van Marwijk faired. Starting off with his choices in selecting certain players, I intend to have a look at the goalkeeper-issue and his choices in defence.
With Stekelenburg and Timmer out, Van Marwijk re-called van der Sar, instead of calling up youngsters like Vermeer, Velthuizen or Vorm. Van der Sar may be a better keeper at the moment, but he’s not getting any younger and we should make sure that his successors get some playing time in the national squad as well.
We should build up their confidence and show some trust, even if they make a mistake. Van der Sar played an abysmal first international match, as Holland went down 1-0 away to Belarus. Van der Sar failed to save a semi-decent shot by Sergey Gerasimets. He wasn’t dropped from the team and in the end, he re-paid this trust with stellar performances.
We should do the same with either of the three goalies listed above. Take a chance on one of them, it’s better for their long-term development and for the long-term development of Dutch football in general.
Next up, he selected Dirk Marcellis to play as a right wing-back. Marcellis is a centre-back. This was evident in the past two matches. Marcellis did okay as a pure defender, but he lacked the offensive capabilities we seek in a wing-back.
Van Marwijk also selected PSV’s Jan Kromkamp. Kromkamp is not good enough for the international stage, something which became painfully clear during his spells at Villareal and Liverpool. So don’t select him… WBA’s Gianni Zuiverloon seems a decent alternative and at least this guy is an actual wing-back. If he was good enough for the U21-team, surely he has the potential to be an A-international as well?
At the position of left wing-back, midfielder Giovanni van Bronckhorst was given a chance. This worked out pretty well against Iceland. Against this weak opponent, Gio was able to move forward and reinforce our midfield. Against Norway, this didn’t work out at all. Why not utilize Feyenoord’s wing-back Tim de Cler for such a match?
In midfield, Van Marwijk has kept the faith in his son-in-law Mark van Bommel, despite the latter losing his spot in the starting line-up at Bayern. This paid off, Van Bommel rewarded the granted confidence with two outstanding performances and a game-winning goal against Norway.
This move could’ve back-fired if Van Bommel had performed poorly. The media would’ve wondered why he fielded his son-in-law, despite the lad being not good enough for the Bayern starting eleven. His decision didn’t backfire though, so well done Bert.
In midfield, Van Marwijk had the balls to pick either Van der Vaart or Sneijder, a decision Van Basten was afraid to make. To be fair, Sneijder did help a bit by being not fully fit, but still.
Van der Vaart and Sneijder are not wingers or defensive midfielders. They are attacking midfielders, who are best utilised in the centre of the pitch. We can field Van Persie, Kuyt, or Amrabat on the right wing, Afellay, Babel, or Robben on the right wing, but we lack proper defensive midfielders to cover for two prima-donna's who do not defend.
Don't get me wrong, both of them are brilliant players, but we cannot field them both at the same time and it makes no sense to use either of them as a winger, as there are better alternatives available. We don't have enough class defensive midfielders to cover for them, so the manager will have to make a choice.
It's a really a bit of a luxury problem, because either one of them is a brilliant player, but it's also a difficult choice. The media and fans all have their favourites and will criticise a manager for not fielding their hero. Van Marwijk handled this well and Van der Vaart re-paid this confidence with two good performances.
Last up, there’s the matter of Van Persie and Sneijder bickering in the media. This could’ve caused a rift in the team, but it hasn’t. We’re not sure what Van Marwijk did to patch things up, but it worked.
Taking all of the above into consideration, this is my rating for the coach, for both matches.
Bert van Marwijk – 7,5/10