The Arsenal striker failed to live up to expectations as a sub-standard Dutch side kicked off their campaign in the Group of Death with a shock defeat
By Peter McVitie | Netherlands Expert
Ever since the heart-breaking defeat to Spain in the 2010 World Cup final, Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk has faced immense pressure to field a team which consists of both Arsenal striker Robin van Persie and Schalke star Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
In the build-up to Euro 2012 there was much speculation in the Dutch media about the possibility of both strikers making the starting XI after they each enjoyed great seasons in their respective leagues, and the general consensus was that both hitmen would be in the first-team.
But Van Marwijk rejected the calls of the nation and stuck to his guns, lining up against Morten Olsen’s Denmark in their opening game of the competition with Van Persie up front, Huntelaar on the bench and two holding midfielders in Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong.
Throughout the match, a lack of attacking intent was evident as employing two holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 makes it very difficult for the Netherlands to threaten with pace and in numbers. Attempts to stretch the backline were both feeble and too few, and one of those defensive midfielders should have been sacrificed much earlier than the 70th minute when Rafael van der Vaart replaced De Jong.
What a result for the underdogs!
Morten Olsen had a gameplan which had been tested already in the disappointing warm-up against Brazil, and again in the less than impressive win over Australia.
Going into the Euros, this strategy didn't look like it would work, but Olsen had faith in his tactical approach. The plan was to play his usual defensive-minded 4-3-3 formation, hoping to score on the counterattack and keeping Netherlands as far away from their penalty area as possible.
Olsen got his tactics spot on as Denmark limited Holland to only a few good chances. Then when an opportunity of their own arrived, the Scandinavians were clinical to clinch the three points,
The Arsenal man, who scored 37 goals in all competitions this past club season, needs someone to play off him and expects the likes of Afellay, Robben and Sneijder to cover those areas for him. There is only one person the Dutch can rely on to utilise the space Van Persie leaves.
That is Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
The Schalke striker - who was top-scorer in Euro 2012 qualifying - netted 29 goals in the Bundesliga in 2011-12, and his record in all competitions was 48 goals in 47 games. But he is much more than a poacher - his workrate and link-up play are aspects of his game which are continuously underrated.
The lack of understanding between the frontline were evident throughout the majority of the first-half, yet the Netherlands remained unchanged as they emerged for the second period. The problems continued until 20 minutes from time when van der Vaart and Huntelaar replaced De Jong and Ibrahim Afellay, respectively.
The coach was far too slow to react to the problems in his team, and the damaging defeat to Denmark is proof that Van Marwijk needs to find a balance to combine the movement and style of Van Persie and the prowess and potency of Huntelaar.
With the so-called easiest match of Group B out of the way for Netherlands, no more mistakes can be made in their two remaining pool games against Germany and Portugal if the Dutch are to avoid an embarrassing first-round exit.
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