Every time the Netherlands is represented at a major finals event, a number of clichés are without fail spouted out by the great and the good in the media.In-fighting, the Brazil of Europe, Total football, great technical ability, weak national league etc etc etc
Things have changed.
The World Cup 2010 shattered a few of those illusions – the Dutch muscled, kicked and bullied their way into the final and left a mark not only on the chest of Xabi Alonso, but on their legacy. Countless pundits lined up to give a soundbite on the death of the Cruyff way, and how sad it was that a once noble and graceful national side had fallen on such barren and unattractive ground. But, Nigel de Jong came as close as Cruyff and Neeskins to lifting that trophy – what the Oranje have in Coach Bert van Marwijk is a pragmatic and thick skinned manager who isn’t afraid to put noses out of joint. Total football is dormant, and no longer are they considered the Brazil of Europe, but more accurately the 90s Argentina of Europe – some outstanding flair players mixed in with some real tough nuts.
France have taken Holland’s comedy implosion crown, a resurgent Ajax are helping to push the UEFA coefficient up, and they still possess players with outstanding technical ability. So, is this the best chance for Holland to change from perennial bridesmaids into the bride (To paraphrase another favourite term to describe Holland’s national team).
23 Man Squad
Goalkeepers: Maarten Stekelenburg (AS Roma), Michel Vorm (Swansea), Tim Krul (Newcastle).
Defenders: Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Malaga), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord), Wilfred Bouma (PSV Eindhoven), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax), Jetro Willems (PSV Eindhoven).
Midfielders: Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Mark van Bommel (AC Milan), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Stijn Schaars (Sporting Lisbon), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham).
Forwards: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Luuk de Jong (FC Twente), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Luciano Narsingh (Heerenveen), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich).
The big names of the Dutch squad will be very familiar to anyone who watches even a small amount of European football. The fact is that the Eredivisie isn’t that strong, and so most of the marquee players ply their trade beyond the borders of their homeland.
Wesley Sneijder will be happy to have a tournament to play in – so that he can avoid reading about his rumoured transfer from Internazionale to any number of moneyed teams. He had a whale of a time at the last World Cup, scoring 5 goals, and at 27 he hits Euro 2012 in his prime. A midfielder with great vision and passing range, and a danger from free-kicks.
Robin Van Persie enjoyed the best season of his career with Arsenal in 2011-12, scoring 2.7 goals with every single touch of the ball (No, he did score lots though). Van Persie will probably feel that he’s done enough to start at the pinnacle of van Marwijk’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
Arjen Robben might have put his shooting boots on the wrong feet in the Champions League final, but the rapid Bayern winger is a deadly proposition on either flank, whether cutting in from the right as he does for his club side, or as a more traditional winger thumping in those vicious low crosses that beg to be caught on the volley.
And that’s just to name three of the Netherland’s incredible attacking talents. With Rafael van der Vaart, Huntelaar, Ibrahim Afellay and Luuk de Jong also in the squad, they’re not short of viable attacking options, and have a few versatile players which whom to mix things up if needed.
It’s not all good news for the Netherlands though.
Bert van Marwijk came under fire from the Dutch press not just for his side’s rough and tumble approach to international relations, but also for the ignobility of fielding two holding midfielders. That’s right two! It’s a rather quaint way of the Dutch press to remind the world that they still knew that free-flowing graceful carousels were the right way to play, even if van Marwijk was bang on the tactical trend and led his team right up to the final. Two defensive midfielders are necessary with that Dutch defence though.
Johnny Heitinga is incredibly only 28, and yet has the agility of a softened lump of butter. Remarkably, he’s Holland’s best defender.
Joris Mathijsen, Mark van Bommel and Dirk Kuyt. Three players who are not automatic first choice players for their clubs, and yet fall into that bracket for the national team. Van Bommel you can understand, he’s the Coach’s son-in-law, but the other two frustrate. Dirk Kuyt is endearingly described as “enthusiastic” by most Liverpool fans, he’s a hard worker in a team that needs its hard workers, but this may well be his last tournament with the Oranje.
Oh, and Boulahrouz is dreadful.
As mentioned above, van Marwijk likes to play two holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1, which was pretty much the must have formation for any upwardly mobile team in 2010. Van Bommel and de Jong are pretty much the most frightening partnership seen in International football since they banned knives in 1903, in contention for one of their starting berths is young PSV star Kevin Strootman, who’s been widely heralded as “the new Roy Keane”. Presumably that really means “the latest new Roy Keane, you know, after Nigel de Jong was it”. Whichever two start, they are a formidable shield and platform for the intricate interweaving craftsmen ahead of them.
The Netherlands version of 4-2-3-1 is one that with a midfield five that is very much divided into two defensive and three attacking players. How those two units link up will be important (Expect Dirk Kuyt to do 12km+ each game).
Van Persie is likely to start up top; with Robben, van der Vaart, Sneijder and Afellay joining ever-present Dirk Kuyt in support. The Dutch are a versatile team, a few members can play effectively in more than one position, and they’ll have a fine striker on the bench whichever one van Marwijk starts with.
However, aside from a couple of players already mentioned, there’s not that much strength in depth throughout the squad. They will hope to gain control over the group with an opening win, and try to keep a few of their stars as fresh as possible for the later stages – a few injuries to one or two key players and they are struggling.
As long as the European Brazilians can avoid in-fighting tearing the squad apart, the technically gifted side could finally become the bride after three appearances as bridesmaid. No, they won it in 1988, so that bridesmaid thing doesn’t even work.A very strong team – don’t be surprised if they top the group of death ahead of either Portugal or Germany. With a relatively easy first game against Denmark, they should be in a position to measure their way through the group stages and will at the very least reach the semi-finals if they avoid Spain in the second round.
Like quite a few teams here in the summer – France, Germany, Portugal for example, they have a fine array of attacking talent, but are suspect at the back.