Football is a funny game. In just a short space of time, a team can go from being on top of the world, to rock bottom. It is what keeps us fans hooked. Over the years many teams have fallen down this road. France, Italy and obviously England, but now we can add another team to that list. Holland.
On July 11th 2010, Holland played Spain in the final of the FIFA World Cup. The Dutch had beaten Slovakia, Brazil and the dangerous Uruguay to reach the final. Their team was lauded as they had been in the late eighties for their “Total Football”. With the attacking talents of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, they always had a goal threat. They were unfortunate to lose to Spain in that final, but this was supposed to be the springboard to inspire a new “Golden Generation” to win some silverware.
The European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine was a good chance to prove themselves as serious contenders. They were among the favourites to win the trophy for the first time since 1988, but were handed a tricky group with a new attacking Germany, the difficult Denmark and the inconsistent Portuguese.
With the likes of van Persie, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Robben and Rafael van der Vaart all in good form, you would surely bank on this team to score goals despite being in the “Group of Death”. But they failed to find the net against Denmark with Simon Kjaer, the Danes outstanding performer, keeping their dangerous attack quiet.
They threatened early on against Germany, but soon found themselves two goals down due to Mario Gomez’s brilliant strikes. They pulled a goal back, but there just felt like there was something missing. The same can be said for the game against Portugal. They took the lead with a stunning van der Vaart goal, but were limited after that and were defeated by an inspired Cristiano Ronaldo.
So where did it all go wrong? Well, let me explain. Firstly, Bert van Marwijk got his team selection all wrong. Lining up with a 4-2-3-1 formation like Germany used was supposed to make them strong defensively, but with the ability to hit teams on the break. Sadly, this did not work. Mark van Bommel was a good player five years ago, but he simply is not good enough now. Nigel de Jong is adequate but nothing more; he offers nothing going forward and that is what they missed out on. Germany have Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira as their two central midfielders; fine athletes who can defend but also have the creativity and flair to start attacks. You cannot say that about van Bommel and de Jong. Also, Van Marwijk picked Ibrahim Afellay on the wing. He is undoubtedly a fine player, but he has struggled with injuries this season and has subsequently barely played for Barcelona. He could have played Sneijder out wide with van der Vaart in the middle, or even Dirk Kuyt.
The second problem was with the defence. When your star centre back is Johnny Heitinga, you know you are a bit suspect at the back. Gregory van der Wiel is probably the greatest winger to be playing at right back. Attacking wise, he is very good, but he is so poor defensively that he makes Jose Bosingwa look like Nemanja Vidic. At left back, they have the highly rated Jetro Willems. At just 18, it was a big tournament for him, but he looked out of his depth. You know you are in trouble when you wish Giovani van Bronckhorst hadn’t retired.
Finally, one of the most important aspects of tournament football is to be match fit. The strain of playing every four days in big matches must be difficult, especially after a long season. But Holland looked absolutely exhausted after thirty minutes against Germany, their second game. Against Portugal, they looked the same. When Ronaldo scored his second goal last night, his determination to get into the box was outstanding. The Dutch defenders couldn’t get near him, including renowned speed wizard van der Wiel.
So after the glamour of being in the World Cup final just two years ago, and being ranked the worlds best team for a few months, Holland crashed out without winning a single point. Maybe their World cup campaign papered over the cracks. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil will be the current golden generations last chance to win a major title (van Persie, Sneijder, Robben, Huntelaar are all 28). However, with a leaky defence and a lack of quality central midfielders, they might be destined to remain world footballs nearly men.