A look back at why the Netherlands won't play at FIFA World Cup 2018
The Netherlands had a disastrous qualifying campaign
There is no doubt that the Dutch are one of the finest footballing nations in the globe. They finished as runner-ups in South Africa and subsequently finished third in 2014 at Brazil. But the Netherlands are now blamed for getting too caught up in their success of the past and, have consequently, fallen behind.
They missed out on a spot at the Euros a couple of years back and now have missed the chance to compete on the biggest stage in the World. It’s inconceivable for a country so steeped in footballing tradition to miss back-to-back major tournaments for the first time since 1984.
With a severe lack of quality available to the national team manager and the standard of the national league dipping by the season, let's find out where it all went wrong for the men in orange?
Disastrous qualifying campaign
Even a win in their final qualifier for Russia 2018 against Sweden condemned the Netherlands to their first back-to-back failure in international tournament qualification since 1986.
The 2016 qualification campaign was, overall, a disaster. Defeats home and away to a fading Czech side and an emerging Iceland were compounded by defeat in Turkey. The Netherlands finished fourth in their group and failed to qualify for a tournament where it seemed just being a professional football team gained you entry.
Hiddink departed less than a year into the job, and was replaced by his former captain and assistant manager Danny Blind. The 3-2 home defeat to the Czechs in the final group game saw seven players that weren’t involved in the previous World Cup start for the Netherlands, but it was Klass-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie that scored their goals.
These newly blooded players became the spine of the side that started the campaign for Russia 2018 with a 1-1 draw in Sweden. PSV goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet had established himself as number one, as Jasper Cillessen struggled to get first-team football at Barcelona.
Wolfsburg’s Jeffrey Bruma and then Southampton star Virgil van Dijk joined Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind in defence; Ajax’s promising youngster Davy Klaasen was introduced into a midfield with Wijnaldum, Kevin Strootman – once Holland’s great hope, but blighted by injuries – and Quincy Promes, an exciting winger who had excelled at CSKA Moscow.
Sneijder remained in the team, supporting Janssen up front. On paper, a decent side, but while Van Dijk had made a name for himself in the Premier League, the likes of Janmaat and Wijnaldum had recently left relegated Newcastle – their commitment in avoiding the drop heavily questioned by supporters in the north-east.
Daley Blind soon found himself out of contention at Manchester United following Jose Mourinho’s appointment, and Janssen’s big money move to Tottenham was quickly becoming a nightmare as he failed to hit the ground running.
Memphis Depay, another regular squad member, had been shipped out on loan to Lyon, failing to pull up trees in Manchester. Question marks over the quality of the leagues in Holland and Russia left the jury out on Zoet, Klassen, and Promes.
A 2-0 defeat in Bulgaria in March left the Netherlands hopes of qualifying hanging by a thread, and Blind was disposed of. Dick Advocaat, who had picked up the pieces the last time the Dutch had failed to qualify for a major tournament, was appointed and watched his side convincingly stick five past Luxembourg in his first game.
Further youngsters were blooded with Lazio’s Wesley Hoedt and Chelsea’s Nathan Ake both seeing playing time against Luxembourg, but the trust in youth backfired spectacularly as the Dutch were roundly trounced in France during their next qualifier. It seems that between promising youngsters and the dying embers of the 2014 vintage there is no middle ground.
The paucity of quality experienced players was outlined when Advocaat recalled a 34-year-old Robin van Persie, whose best days were well behind him, and Ryan Babel, who is well into the latter stages of his career.
The Netherlands squad is, fittingly, in a schism: those that aren’t yet experienced enough for the rigors of international football, and those that no longer have the legs for it.
It is a shame that the once powerhouse of football won't be part of this year's World Cup.