The Dutch landed in Ukraine two weeks ago, soundly carrying the expectations of millions of football crazy Dutch fans all around the globe, firmly believing that this might be their golden chance to win the European Championships and put their names at par with the legendary Dutch team of the 1970s and 1980s. It seemed very hard to counter this argument, with the majority of the players in their late 20’s, the age at which footballers reach their prime. An assimilation of some of the finest attackers in the world, the Dutch were expected to run riot through the competition. With the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar leading the attack, it was safe to assume that other teams in the Group of Death would have to shore up their defences and plug their holes in order to have any chance of withstanding the orange onslaught. An 11-0 victory against Iceland in a warm-up game before the tournament made headlines and further added weight to the prospect of the Dutch being favourites to progress from the group stages.
But after two weeks of intense, dramatic football which has produced some brilliant performances and shock results galore, the Dutch went from being the favourites to probably one of the most underperforming teams in the history of the competition. Exiting the competition with no points in the bag, this talented team of individuals might’ve probably played their last tournament together. The introspection of the Dutch FA following the shambolic performance at Euro is bound to give the axe to some players and Bert van Marwijk is destined to be shown the door. But the problems seem to be much deeper and more complex.
1) Self Centred Players?
Being drawn in the Group of Death meant that one of the heavyweights would have to go home at the end of the group stages. But the manner of the exit of the Dutch team, with no points to show for their performance is indeed dismal. The opposition teams knew right from the start that the Dutch would always enjoy the lion’s share of possession. A team of the calibre of the Germans might argue this point but the Dutch have some magnificent ball players who love to control the game. However, the lack of coordination in the attacking half left everyone bewildered. With few through balls throughout the tournament, the apparent selfishness of Arjen Robben characterised by his going for goal when passes should have been provided to his teammates led them to waste some golden opportunities in front of goal. Both the goals from van Persie and Van Der Vaart were sublime finishes. With the common knowledge of the lack of understanding between Robben and van Persie it was apparent that what appeared in front of us was not a team but an individual collection of 11 gifted players. There were rumours of Van Marwijk favouring Van Bommel (as he is his son in law).
2) The 4-2-3-1 Formation.
People might argue and I certainly believe that Van Marwijk had enough reasons to continue this formation which was so successful in the 2010 World Cup. However, the given formation with the old legs of Van Bommel marshalling the defence failed miserably and were not able to provide the spark. The Dutch began all their matches brightly but the formation failed to unlock the rival defences and the team looked fatigued during the later stages of their matches. With so many attacking players in their ranks, Van Marwijk made the correct choice of starting Van Der Vaart and Huntelaar in the place of the abysmal Afellay, thereby employing a more attacking 4-1-3-2 formation and the result was there for all to see as the Dutch took a firm grip against Portugal in the early stages. This formation, with only De Jong as the lone defensive midfielder and Van der Vaart playing a more attacking role might have served well throughout the tournament, although this might’ve still not given them the required points to progress.
3) A Defence leakier than the Iraqi Navy
Too much? Not quite. If we properly analyse the goals conceded by the Dutch, we might come to the conclusion that all the goals were a consequence of some defensive errors. With the major focus on the attacking half of the Dutch team, many people failed to notice the apparent weakness in the back four. Not only did they fail to solidify their defence, they also failed to provide much width to the attack by moving forward. Van Der Wiel showed glimpses of why he is regarded so highly but his apparent inability to link up with the strikers meant that the opposing teams had it easy in the middle of the park which was evident against Portugal. Ronaldo ran riot against Van Der Wiel, who had no hopes of receiving any defensive help from Arjen Robben. With Ronaldo hitting the crossbar twice, the Dutch should count themselves lucky. They had no plans of stopping Ronaldo (who was superbly shackled by the Germans). However with no reinforcements from the front, the defence looked at times bullied by the counter-attacking tactics of Portugal.
4) Fatigueness and lack of drive and determination
What was common in all three matches was that the team was lively in the opening few minutes but slowed down in the later stages of their games. They were not energetic enough and hardly won any aerial balls, nor or did they press the opposition by winning balls as soon as they lost it. Stroking the ball in the middle of the park and losing it just in front of the penalty box became common.
Well, one can go on and on explaining the numerous mistakes and the fallacies in the team which led to them put in a performance which will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Changes are imminent but not wholly necessary. There were occasional glimpses of magic, whether it be the magnificent through ball from Sjneider or Arjen Robben dancing through a wall of defenders only to hit the post.
But it is safe to say that much introspection and a change in attitude should be foremost in the minds of the Dutch Football Association if they want to have a realistic chance of winning the World Cup in 2014