The Dutch are arguably the biggest underachievers in World Football with only 1988’s Euros to show for a nation that’s produced Cruyff, Gullitt, Van Basten, Bergkamp to name just a few.
The simplistic view of the Dutch is that they turn up to a tournament as one of the favourites, a star player falls out with the coach and is sent/flounces home, there’s infighting in the squad and they go out on penalties. A somewhat more complex analysis suggests that they never seem to have that extra dimension they need to win the big tournaments. However, before every tournament great things are predicted from the Dutch, so the law of averages, suggests that sooner or later they’ll win. This could be their year.
The Netherlands breezed through their group, winning 10 out of 11 games and only losing their last game, when they’d already qualified. They were Europe’s top scorers in qualifying, although to be fair it did include an 11-0 trouncing of San Marino. They recently gave Northern Ireland a proper spanking, so should go into the tournament with confidence. The Netherlands will start as one of the favourites, so if you like a bet, you’d do a lot worse than going Dutch.
The Coach Bert Van Marwijk has stuck largely with much of the same personnel who came runners-up to Spain at the last World Cup. Amazingly, there’s a place for Dirk Kuyt, though I doubt he’ll see much action this time around. This squad is very experienced, right throughout the side, and has 3 very good keepers. He has, however added a sprinkling of youth to freshen things up with some promising young players about to be blooded at their first big tournament. There are no great Rio Ferdinand-style omissions from the squad and Van Marwijk has to be applauded for keeping all those egos and opinions in check. It’s a pretty strong squad all round. This is the best chance for the Dutch to add another major tournament to their 1988 triumph.
The Dutch haven’t really played Total Football since 1974, but have usually produced attacking free-flowing football. The present Dutch side is still capable of playing some breathtaking stuff, but they do place greater stall on defensive solidity and not being dominated in midfield.
Under Van Marwijk, the Dutch always play a 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders, usually De Jong and Van Bommel. Wesley Sneijder performs the classic European No. 10 playmakers role, operating just behind the striker and they employ 2 wingers and a lone front man, usually Van Persie. The rigid adherence to this formation often means that there’s no starting place for Van Der Vaart or Huntelaar, despite Huntelaar, leading their scoring in the qualifiers. The full-backs like to get forward and the formation and personnel they’ve got, gives them the fluidity and penetration to cause problems for any defence. Oh and Van Persie can score goals, as can Robben, Sneijder, Huntelaar, Affelay and any pretty much most of the squad.
Take your pick from Van Persie, Robben, Sneider etc. However, if I have to come off the fence, I quite fancy Sneijder to put an indifferent season behind him and prove himself as the best No.10 in Europe. Van Persie is probably hot favourite for the Golden Boot Award.
Defensively, the Netherlands are a bit suspect, but that’s true of most teams in this tournament. There’s not a great deal of pace at the heart of defence, so are suspect to teams running at them at speed. It’s likely that Van Bommel and De Jong won’t be allowed to get away with the kind of brutality that caused Johan Cruyff to describe the South Africa 2010 version of the Netherlands as anti-football. Oh and they’re worse at penalties than England.
With the talent at their disposal, expect the Netherlands to be attack-minded. Look for the Dutch to get the ball to Robben and the other winger, probably Afellay as much as possible. They’re not classic wide-men in the Overmars mould as they have licence to roam around and cut inside and will quite often switch wings. Width will also be provided by both full backs who like to get forward at every opportunity. Much of their best work will revolve around Sneijder. The playmaker has something of a free role and is critical in linking midfield to the other attack minded players. Sneijder can pick a pass and weigh in with goals. Expect fluency, movement and pace and they are especially dangerous on the counter-attack. However, they can be got at. The back four aren’t great and they could be suspect down the flanks and as the tournament goes on, opposing teams might just work out how to play against that 4-2-3-1 formation.
Players to Watch
Look out for Jetro Willems. The PSV left back only turned 18 in March and is the youngest player at Euro 2012. He’s composed, assured, athletic, and great going forward. If he has a good tournament, expect some of Europe’s leading clubs, to sniff around him like teenage boys at a bonfire. Also, the Herenveen winger, Luciano Narsingh is fast and skilful. He always seems to do the right thing in the final third (Theo Walcott take note) and has an eye for goal. Expect the Dutch to use him as an impact player, but he may end up as a starter as the tournament progresses.
The Dutch are in the ‘group of death’, but have more than enough to get out of it. Expect fireworks when they play Germany and as long as they don’t have to take penalties, they should do well. I expect the Dutch to reach the semi-finals, after which anything can happen.