There’s still some hope for the Netherlands but as one of the pre-tournament favourites there must be bitter disappointment at the state they find themselves in. The loss to the Germans can’t have been wholly unexpected, but after the defeat by the Danes, the coach Bert Van Marwijk must have been hopeful of a reaction that could have put the Dutch back on track to achieve qualification to the knock-out phase. However, in many ways the performance against the Germans was worse and Van Marwijk himself needs to have a long look at his approach and the way in which he sent his side out to face the Germans.
The chances they created against Denmark, may well have lulled Van Marwijk into thinking that there wasn’t a great deal wrong with his side other than poor finishing and if indeed that is Van Marwijk’s assertion, there’s a great deal of mileage in it. Once again, the Dutch created some great chances against the Germans but were again wasteful in front of goal. Van Persie missed 2 guilt edged chances which had he taken in the way he would be expected to, given the season he’s just had, would surely have changed the whole complexion of the match.
However, the German midfield found it all too easy to gain a foothold and impose themselves against the Dutch. Once again, the Dutch attacking players were left isolated and wanting for greater support. The full-backs rarely crossed the half way line and Willems had no answer to the thrust and energy of Thomas Muller who gave him a torrid time. The introduction of Huntelaar and Van Der Vaart, gave them more fluidity after the break and they looked a better balanced side in the second half. Van Persie’s sumptuous strike gave the Dutch hope, but they never really looked like they’d get back on level terms and the Germans were always dangerous on the counter.
Van Marwijk rang the changes at half-time removing Van Bommel and the ineffective Affellay, but it’s easy to know what decisions need to be made in a must-win game when you’re 2-0 down. The decision to employ Van Bommel and De Jong so deeply, had the effect of ensuring the Dutch played with 6 defenders. This conceded midfield to Germany and somewhat nullified the Netherlands own attacking threat by leaving it isolated and the coach deserves criticism by not maximising the attacking threat at his disposal until desperation set in. Reports of in-fighting within the Dutch camp are hardly novel, but Van Marwijk had largely avoided this by fashioning a winning team. Displays of insuborbordination and petulance by Van der Vaart and Robben, point to conflict within the Dutch ranks, at least towards the coach, which have surfaced precisely because the Dutch have underperformed so markedly. Sneijder has also weighed in and publicly criticised members of his own squad. Confidence and team spirit appear to be in short supply which doesn’t bode well for the challenge ahead.
Indeed, ooking ahead to the game against Portugal, the Dutch are in a do-or-die situation. A win may not be enough, they need to rely on Germany defeating the Danes, both of whom need only a point to qualify for the knock-out phase. Even a win might not be enough to avoid going home. They may need to win handsomely to ensure they go through on goal difference. The Portugese will have taken great confidence from their victory over Denmark and need a win themselves to be sure of staying in the competition, so the game is nicely poised.
Can the Dutch play to their potential and beat a fairly limited Portugese who’s best players, Ronaldo and Nani have been disappointing so far? Well it depends on whether the Dutch are able to find the collective spirit required to perform to their potential. Also, will Van Marwijk, a frustratingly conservative coach, abandon his stifling system and allow the side to play with more freedom. He may find a starting role for both Van Der Vaart and Huntelaar as he did in the second half of the Germany game, which should give the side more of an attacking threat. Expect an open game wiyth both sides needing to win. I take the Dutch to finally get their act together and win, but will it be enough to see them through?