By Stefan Coerts | Netherlands expert
After the friendly losses against Bayern Munich and Bulgaria, Netherlands slowly started to wonder whether they were indeed one of the favourites for Euro 2012. Oranje lacked passion, enthusiasm, creativity and width in their first two warm-up friendlies for this summer's tournament, and pundits such as Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Wim van Hanegem were quick to criticise the team for its flaws.
Nevertheless, Holland returned to winning ways on Wednesday when they beat Slovakia 2-0. Although the Dutch were by no means impressive at De Kuip, national team coach Bert van Marwijk will have seen some positive signs only 10 days before their opener against Denmark on June 9.
Skipper Mark van Bommel showed that he is ready to lead Oranje in Poland and Ukraine with a commanding performance in midfield after a difficult season at AC Milan, while Arjen Robben already seems to have moved on from the Champions League final debacle. The biggest plus for Van Marwijk, though, will have been the performance of Ibrahim Afellay.
|AFELLAY'S PROMISING EVENING
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|8'||GOALL! And it's Netherlands who take the lead! Afellay teases Pekarik on the left-hand side of the area, smashes a ball across the box, and Salata inadvertently touches it into his own net. 1-0.|
| PLAYER RATING
|7.5||Showed why Van Marwijk rates him so highly with an excellent outing. Created the opener with a fine individual action down the left, and was involved in every dangerous move.|
Nevertheless, Afellay was then hit by misfortune as he missed the majority of the 2011-12 campaign due to a knee injury.
Van Marwijk immediately stressed that he would definitely take the attacker to Euro 2012, though, if he was deemed match fit, regardless of an eventual lack of match rhythm, and Wednesday's encounter indicated that the Netherlands boss seems to have made the right choice.
Afellay was Oranje's main attacking threat right from the start, and the former PSV playmaker capped a man-of-the-match performance with the assist for the opener.
However, much more important for the Dutch was the positive impact Afellay had on the team. He not only added width and creativity to the team from his position as left-winger, but his enthusiasm also helped boost morale after two disappointing results.
Although his lack of match rhythm can be seen as a disadvantage, his lengthy absence throughout the 2011-12 campaign also means that Afellay is still fresh, unlike so many other stars.
Obviously, this is by no means a guarantee for success at the European Championship, as it is unclear how Afellay's body will react to the strain of playing a match every four days.
The Dutch will fondly look back at a similar situation ahead of Euro 1988, though, when a certain Marco van Basten had only played 11 Serie A games for AC Milan over the course of the 1987-88 campaign due to ongoing ankle problems.
Nevertheless, the striker's lack of match practice did not cause him any concerns at the European Championship. 'San Marco' netted a hat-trick against England in the group stage, followed by the winner in the semi-final versus Germany, and a wonder goal in the final against the Soviet Union to help Oranje to their only major trophy in history.
A similar scenario will undoubtedly have passed through Afellay's mind in the past few months as this summer's showpiece edges closer and closer.
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