With three goals coming after Kevin Strootman’s red card, Dick Advocaat could have argued that Netherlands’ 4-0 humbling against France looked worse than the scoreline suggested. Luckily, the coach knew better than to sugar coat his side’s truly horrendous display.
“We weren’t in the game at all,” was his reaction to NOS after a ruinous defeat in their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign in Paris which leaves them with an uphill battle to claim even the playoff spot in Group A. “France were just too good for us. We were the lesser team in all areas.
“I'm really shocked at how we played. It was all without conviction. France did not leave space and were superior on the ball, but we made it all too easy.”
As grim as the 69-year-old’s analysis was, it did not go far enough. If the Dutch appeared submissive to the French from kick off, it didn’t take long before they turned outright masochistic to an extent that would make Christian Grey wince.
When Wesley Sneijder fell into the ball, knocking it to Antoine Griezmann to combine with Olivier Giroud and open the scoring 15 minutes in, it became clear France would be met with little resistance.
They found no reason to step up a gear and played around with the Dutch before putting them out of their misery in the wake of Strootman’s contentious second yellow card an hour into the game.
“We lost to a team that is much better,” Robben said. “That team was too good for us.”
Sneijder, disastrous until his half-time substitution, added: “They have a fantastic player in every position. Also on the bench and I think even sitting at home.”
Even with the second most expensive signing in football history on the bench and the third at home, Didier Deschamps certainly had a far stronger and more synchronised side.
Few would have expected a win from a team in disarray for three years against the Euro 2016 runners-up, but it was astounding to see just how amateurish the Dutch looked.
With impressive debutant Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Wesley Hoedt and Vincent Janssen starting, there was some inexperience, but in Robben, Sneijder, Georgino Wijnaldum, Kevin Strootman, Stefan de Vrij and Daley Blind, there were enough established players to expect a reasonable fight.
The team is said to be in transition, but that Robin van Persie was called upon for his first appearance in almost two years to provide one of their few chances for Robben shows that they are not quite willing to let the previous generation go. In every game, it becomes ever clearer that life without Robben is not worth thinking about for Dutch fans at present. The change cannot be completed while the KNVB keep calling on out of date and inept coaches to lead the new crop of Memphis Depay, Quincy Promes, Fosu-Mensah, Matthijs de Ligt and so forth.
The ludicrous long-term plan of appointing Guus Hiddink after the 2014 World Cup to lead them to Euro 2016 and then be succeeded by Danny Blind collapsed within a year, but the KNVB let it go long enough to tarnish their chances of getting a spot in Russia in 2018.
It’s incredible that there was no plan to recover from it given the early wobbles and they were left scrambling to replace Blind earlier this year, leading to the short-term appointment of Advocaat. How embarrassing it must have been for them to hear the perennial retirement-flirter make clear upon his unveiling that he didn’t want the job, didn’t beg for it and that the KNVB had to appeal to him.
Two games into the ex-Fenerbahce coach’s third reign, which started with a 5-0 win over Luxembourg, and with three games left, their weak attempt to salvage their hopes of getting through looks dead.
Bulgaria’s 3-2 win over Sweden on Thursday leaves them three points behind the latter, meaning they could steal a playoff spot. A win over Bulgaria in Amsterdam on Sunday is a necessity, but given they lost the previous fixture, it’s far from guaranteed.
Systemic and individual errors were rife in the Stade de France.
Netherlands were completely reactionary defensively and left Blind and Fosu-Mensah to face immense pressure on either side of the defence as the crosses came flying in.
They buckled in midfield as Wijnaldum and Strootman were completely overpowered, and the Liverpool player was left drowning for the final 30 minutes as Advocaat did nothing to react to the red card – bringing Van Persie on for Janssen two minutes later was the only swap he made afterwards.
In attack, Oranje were far too predictable in trying to build up through the wings and were pushed so far back that Robben and Promes had no chance of a run at goal. They had little help, too, with Janssen completely disinterested and Sneijder too slow and out of his depth in attacking midfield.
By half-time, Advocaat’s team had touched the ball once in France’s box and Wijnaldum’s long range miss 10 minutes in was their only attempt.
Shortly after Strootman's dismissal, France blocked Robben’s first chance and countered immediately, getting Pogba into the box only to see his shot from close range saved by Cillessen. That the midfielder found it so easy to charge through and had Giroud free for a pass in the centre the entire time showed just how simple it all was for Les Blues. Netherlands had enough trouble getting to the first ball never mind focusing on the space and dangers around them.
A few minutes later, Thomas Lemar was free to smash it into the top corner to double the lead, but Netherlands were so open that had he not been there, Layvin Kurzawa would have had a free crack at it.
The farce continued when three French players had a 25-yard run at Cillessen with no defenders in their way, allowing Lemar to make it 3-0 before an almost cruel display of France’s current level and further potential with substitute Kylian Mbappe's first international goal.
Netherlands showed once again how far behind their European rivals they really are, but the display was far below the quality of the squad. With such inept leadership in the dugout and above, though, there are few signs the decline will stop any time soon.