First of all, I want to apologise for my late and final blog. I needed some time to grieve after the big deception. Jack Daniels must be so happy with me. Although we all saw it coming, it was hard to face reality. The worst moment was walking through Amsterdam several hours after the game. There was orange everywhere, but not in the enthusiastic way. It was raining; the flags and decorations lost their shine and empty beer cups made the asphalt disappear.
Now, a couple of days after the debacle, we can put it in perspective. The Netherlands are one of the few teams where each individual in the line up plays in a different team. Look at Spain for example, where Real Madrid and Barcelona-players dominate. The Holland squad had no club team-mates in their starting line-up against Denmark, Germany and Portugal.
‘It worked during the World Cup 2010’, is a valid argument. But still, if you look at the performance two years ago: the group stage had three wins, but the games were really bad.
2-0 against Denmark with Agger scoring an own goal, 1-0 against Japan with a huge mistake by the goalkeeper and finally the win against Cameroon, 2-1. Then, there was the game against Slovakia: 2-1. Not quite an astonishing performance. The only time the team played marvellous was against Brazil, with a 2-1 win. During the semi-final, Uruguay missed Suarez, and Holland won 3-2. Finally, Spain were too strong in the final battle. The euphoria didn’t allow any criticism.
So actually it does make sense that John Heitinga and co are relaxing in Ibiza instead of playing the Czech Republic in the semi-finals. The egos of the Big Five (Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel – you can even consider to add Rafael van der Vaart and Ibrahim Afellay) were too big to fit in the style of the squad.
Even Ireland were more efficient than the Netherlands. I’m not kidding. Trapattoni’s men had 25 goal attempts, scoring one goal (4.00% efficiency). The Netherlands scored the shameful stat of 3.70%. 54 (!) attempts, two goals. We can’t even compose a list of the top three goals during the Euros 2012.
What’s next? A very talented generation, but the World Cup in Brazil is too soon for them and maybe too late for the big stars that are leading now. But that’s all far away, after this dreadful tournament. The worst ever. 1980 was the last and only time that Holland got kicked out of the group stage. But at least they did it with a win. What’s the similarity between a broken pencil and the Netherlands during the Euros 2012? They’re both pointless.
17 October 1990. The Netherlands faced Portugal for the first time ever. The Portuguese Rui Aguas was the only player who scored, so Holland lost 1-0. It wouldn’t be the last time they ended a game without a win against Portugal. Even worse, over the next nine games the Dutch only managed to win one. One year later, October 1991, the squad took revenge with a 1-0 win, the last victory against Portugal.
The worst defeat was during the World Cup in Germany, in 2006. Referee Valentin Ivanov showed sixteen yellow cards, including four double yellows. (Costinha, Deco, Boulahrouz and Van Bronckhorst all saw red). The grim ambiance during the game caused a trauma for Holland. Two years before the infamous 2006 game, Portugal kicked Holland out of the European tournament. They became a true Angstgegner (bogey team) for the Netherlands.
Rumours have it that coach Bert van Marwijk will finally change the starting line up with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar as the striker. He is forced to do that, but in my opinion it’s already too late. Statistically the chance for Holland to reach the quarterfinal is 1 in 190. To compare: there is more of a chance that Polish and Russian supporters will have a good beer together; Cristiano Ronaldo takes to the pitch without looking into the mirror or Nicklas Bendtner shows his underwear sans sponsor.
It may work if Germany beat Denmark 2-0 and the Netherlands beat Portugal with a minimum of two goals in difference. Let’s hope for the best.
‘Ich hoffe das du fukkin’ sterbst’, Frank Rijkaard’s spit on Rudi Völler’s neck, Ronald Koeman wiping his bottom with a Germany-shirt. Holland-Germany has had its historical moments, with hostility and passion guaranteed.
Wednesday’s game was the complete opposite of the examples I just gave. The Netherlands played without courage, without organisation and without the well-known Holland-Germany spirit. The first fifteen minutes started off furiously, with Robin van Persie wasting a huge opportunity.
As I pointed out in my previous blog, he’s not the right striker for the Dutch squad. Coach Bert van Marwijk still placed him up front, had to face the consequences, and I have to write this exact same sentence again. Despite of the loss against Denmark, he started with almost the exact same XI, with only the recovered Joris Mathijsen taking Ron Vlaar’s place.
At the back, it didn’t all go well either. You (as in Mathijsen) simply can’t give Mario Gomez, a top class striker, such opportunities. Twice. The gap between the six defending players and the four players up front became the same length as the distance between Amsterdam and Charkov, so the whole squad lost control.
Van Marwijk seemed to realise it after the break, when Van der Vaart made his appearance for Mark van Bommel. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar came into the squad, a big relief for the whole country, but didn’t gave us where we all hoped for. Van Persie on the other hand, proved his value with a great shot. For a minute it worked again, with Huntelaar as the striker and Van Persie behind him, but as expected, Germany didn’t give it away.
In the days before this game, there were a lot of questions about the starting formation. Each and everyone wished for Huntelaar up front, Van Persie behind him, Arjen Robben on the left side and Ibrahim Afellay on the right. Robben on the right isn’t working, especially not against the Germans. His famous, fast dribble – which always ends up after he comes inside – isn’t fresh anymore.
There was a pinch-hitter missing as well. Luciano Narsingh, who gave twenty assists last season, was perfect for the second half. Instead of him, Van Marwijk brought on Dirk Kuijt. Never change a losing team, I guess.
Therefore, the tournament of the 2010 World Cup-finalists could be over by Sunday. Only if Denmark don’t gather any points and Holland win against Portugal with more than two goals difference, there’s a quarterfinal for the squad.
The worst-case scenario happened. The players of the Dutch squad pointed it out in three O’s. ‘Ongelooflijk, Oneerlijk, Onterecht’. Or in English: Unbelievable, unfair and no justice at all. The remarkable thing about those statements is that there’s no self-reflection whatsoever. Holland had 29 (!) shots, but only six of them were on target. No goal. Meanwhile, the Danish took eight shots with four of them on target. One goal.
It immediately became clear that Robin van Persie isn’t the right striker for the Dutch squad. He was eager, but not in the familiar Arsenal way. He wanted to prove, too much. It turned out wrong, and he wasted a lot of opportunities. Again, there were a lot of tv-shots of Huntelaar, who was desperately waiting on the bench. He made his appearance in the 71th minute, but by that time it was already too late. Bert van Marwijk didn’t take any risks, played it safe and had to face the consequences.
Those consequences are bigger than the people think. There are some optimistic supporters saying that Holland lost their first game in 1988 as well (when they eventually won the Euros), but with games against Portugal and Germany in view, the quarterfinal is far, far away.
The goal Holland conceded was typical for the game. Michael Krohn-Dehli played for Ajax, RKC Waalwijk and Sparta Rotterdam, but was never considered as one of the best players in the team. That’s not a big surprise, since he played with a couple of guys who were on the pitch too, yesterday. Here they are: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, John Heitinga, Gregory van der Wiel, Maarten Stekelenburg and Wesley Sneijder played with Krohn-Dehli at Ajax. But the international stars could not make a difference against their old teammate (which also includes Dennis Rommedahl).
So for now, there are two things that can happen. One: it’s only going downhill from here. Remember the friendly against Germany (3-0 defeat). Or the defeat created a certain spirit ,which gives us the style and pugnacity that gives Holland the unbeatable form. We’ll find out on Wednesday, during the physical and emotional game against the Germans.
So, Bert clearly doesn’t read my blog. Just a few hours before the game against Northern Ireland he chose Robin van Persie for the striker position. Something nobody in the Netherlands expected.
The friendly match against Northern Ireland might be the worst thing that happened during this preparation for the Euros. It all started with the news with Van Persie, as a striker. After a lost game against Bayern München and Bulgaria, and a hideous game (a win though) against Slovakia, the guys we’re sharp as knifes. There was a lot of criticism on the squad and after Bert van Marwijk fired the discussion up by choosing Van Persie, the fighting spirit was there. You could see it in their eyes. Holland not only wanted to win, they wanted to get an extraordinary achievement. Deal with the critics. And then, on the heat of the moment, there’s a game against Northern Ireland. A game where you can’t obtain any satisfaction, whether you win with 2-0 or 20-0.
The Northern Ireland-squad on the other hand, was visiting Amsterdam for a couple of days. With the thoughts of playing Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie on Saturday, why not give it a go? I can imagine, while Van Persie and Huntelaar duelled for the striker position, Joris Mathijsen worked hard to recover, the Northern Irish guys were having fun at the Red Light District, or exploring other fascinating parts in Amsterdam.
It all went wrong after ten minutes. Van Persie opened the score with a great header, and immediately the camera went to Huntelaar. Well that was awkward. He was applauding, but in a way I felt sorry for him. He applauded like nominated Hollywood-actors, when they not win an Oscar.
Like I said, it might be the worst game for a preparation. Even central defender Ron Vlaar scored. No complains about Vlaar, but a goal – his first one for Oranje – will make him too confident. When Vlaar scored, there were ten Northern Irish players in the goalkeeper area and only five Dutchmen. Five Dutchmen focussed on the corner, ten Northern Irish guys having a discussion about where the Amsterdam trip should end. The Bananabar?
Eventually Holland won the game. 6-0. All the fighting spirit gone. And if the game wasn’t embarrassing enough, Huntelaar made his appearance for Van Persie. At that point, Holland was already 5-0 up. Nobody in the squad couldn’t care less, Huntelaar didn’t score. Northern Ireland brought Rory McArdle in the squad, a central defender, while they were 5-0 behind. McArdle only conceded one goal, and had the time of his life in Amsterdam.
The Beatles or the Stones? Los Angeles or New York? Manchester City or Manchester United? A perfect example of questions I can decide on in a split second. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar or Robin van Persie? Give me a minute. Never mind, you won’t get my answer before the European Championship.
For a few months now, Holland has been under the spell of that last dilemma. Coach Bert van Marwijk made a joke about it earlier, asking if there were already political debates about it. To be honest I can’t answer it. It’s a real ‘Bert’s Choice’. Imagine Huntelaar as a striker. Top scorer in the German Bundesliga and maybe the more complete striker. Sounds great and he’ll probably do more than well. But now imagine the Dutch bench. Robin van Persie, the velvet attacker. Robin van Persie, the magical Gunner. Robin van Persie, biting his nails on a bench in Charkov.
To make it a little easier we have to go back to last season and Arsenal. Everybody would agree with me that ‘skipper’ Van Persie saved the season for the Gunners. But those beautiful goals were also created because of the sublime passes from Alexandre Song. Holland hasn’t got a Song, but they do have Wesley Sneijder. Sneijder would never waste an opportunity to shoot. So it just doesn’t work out for Van Persie with those kind of attacking midfielders at his back.
I think the question is not who the striker would be, but where you leave Van Persie if you put Huntelaar in the front position. On the left? Arjen Robben. On the right? Ibrahim Afellay. In the middle? Wesley Sneijder. Good luck, Bert.
I decided to ask my followers on Twitter and was surprised by the responses. What I saw was not even close to an ultimatum. It was unanimous: Huntelaar. There were even people writing it down in Caps Lock. They were literally screaming for The Hunter. I could see them sitting behind their computers. Yelling at me.
While my ‘interactions’ on Twitter kept on going, with the Huntelaar-supporters getting more and more aggressive, I realised they were right. In a certain way. Huntelaar, number nine, should be the striker indeed. Just like Van Persie.
Krul (Yes, correctly, that’s Krul.)
Van der Wiel – Boulahrouz – Heitinga - Schaars
Robben, Sneijder, Afellay
Huntelaar – Van Persie
Go get them, Lions.
Netherlands coach Bert Van Marwijk has named a couple of surprise picks in his final 23-man squad for Euro 2012, with veteran Wilfried Bouma and uncapped Jetro Willems included for the tournament.
Van Marwijk has cut his initial 27-man squad down ahead of Saturday’s friendly encounter with Bulgaria in Amsterdam, with Siem de Jong, Vurnon Anita, Jeremain Lens and youngster Adam Maher missing out.
Bouma, 33, is a shock inclusion, having not appeared for the Dutch side since the last European Championships in 2008, whilst the alternative at left-back, Jetro Willems, is uncapped at international level.
The dilemma comes following the broken foot sustained by first-choice Erik Pieters earlier this year, with the PSV Eindhoven man replaced at club level by the inexperienced Willems.
Netherlands can, though, call upon an array of talent in their final squad, with Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder three of the most feared names in European football.
Goalkeepers: Maarten Stekelenburg (AS Roma), Tim Krul (Newcastle United), Michel Vorm (Swansea City).
Defenders: Khalid Boulahrouz (VFB Stuttgart), Wilfred Bouma (PSV Eindhoven), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Malaga), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax Amsterdam, Jetro Willems (PSV Eindhoven).
Midfielders: Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Mark van Bommel (PSV Eindhoven), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Stijn Schaars (Sporting), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham Hotspur).
Forwards: Klaas Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Luuk de Jong (Twente Enschede), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Luciano Narsingh (Heerenveen), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich).