By Lynette Seow HX | Goal.com Singapore
No one wants the ignominy of being the biggest name to choke at the first hurdle. But that’s the label that the Netherlands has to carry now that they’ve crashed out early at the group stages of this year’s Euro without registering a single point in three matches.
Having been drawn in the Group of Death, the Oranje were still favourites to make it to the semi-finals at least. Instead, Germany and Portugal qualify and the Dutch head home in great disappointment.
Even after losing their first two games, there was still a chance for them to proceed if they beat Portugal in the final group match. However, the Dutch didn’t seem to have an ounce of desire to win, with a lacklustre performance capping the end of a disastrous campaign.
So what went wrong? How did the World Cup 2010 finalists go from being title hopefuls to the joke of the tournament? The left back position was problematic, with the inexperience of Jetro Willems frequently being exploited by opposing teams. However, the main issue is that for the abundance of offensive options at his disposal, Coach Bert van Maarwijk’s ability to utilise the attacking talent in his squad was highly questionable.
With the top scorers of both the Premier League and the Bundesliga in this team, the Dutch only managed 2 goals in 3 games. Trying to accommodate both of them by deploying Robin van Persie on the right wing in the second half against Portugal was almost painful to watch.
Now, I’m an Arsenal fan, so I’ve been duly mesmerized by RVP’s prolific form in front of goal this season. However, I do have to admit that his finishing in this tournament has been wasteful. This could be due to fatigue, but I think the type of passes he’s getting also plays a role.
It appears that he misses the kind of service from Theo Walcott and Alex Song, two players who are arguably less gifted technically than Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben but who are familiar with his movement in and around the box.
The Dutch players just didn’t seem to understand each other very well on the field. This made their play rather reactive instead of anticipatory. When the midfield players charge forward, they appear to look up and see where their forwards are and not where their forwards are going to be, making it harder to unlock tight defences.
But is it just unfamiliarity or was there something else inhibiting the team’s play? The in-fighting amongst the Dutch team has been well-documented in previous tournaments. Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder famously don’t see eye-to-eye. The difference between the internal animosity in the past and at the current tournament is that judging from the game against Denmark, the players have let it spill over onto the pitch. Too many times players were guilty of taking a difficult shot at goal instead of opting for a simple square pass to an unmarked teammate. One got the sense that this is a group of talented individuals playing for themselves and not for each other.
If there’s a lesson to be learnt from this, it’s that football is indeed a team sport. Compare the Netherlands to Greece. Barely any household names in the Greek team (though this might be down to the fact that their names are so difficult to pronounce), but they’ve made it to the knockout stages with a heroic win over Russia.
To be honest, the Dutch players almost looked like they couldn’t wait to get kicked out. They started off against Denmark playing like they didn’t have a game plan. They ended off against Portugal with sloppy passing and a complete lack of urgency. As much as I admire the legacy of Dutch football and the quality of their players, it’s hard to argue that they deserve to progress. Well, the silver lining for me at least is that RVP heads back to Arsenal uninjured.