Coming into Sunday’s Euro 2012 Group B match the Netherlands were exactly where they’ve been so often at major tournaments—bickering, questioning their teammates and their coach, stirring rumours of discontent within the squad.
Nothing new, there. The thing is they also required a decisive win over Portugal in order to have any chance of progressing to the quarterfinals, and when Bert van Marwijk’s team-sheet was released just over an hour before kick-off it was clear that “desperation” had become the word of the day.
Into the line-up came Rafael van der Vaart—he of the notorious interview in which van Marwijk’s selections were publicly brought into question. Making way was captain Mark van Bommel, who just happens to be the manager’s son-in-law. Only days before it had been rumoured midfielder Nigel de Jong had fallen out with the skipper, claiming van Bommel was being given preferential treatment.
Defender John Heitinga and his 80 caps were dropped as well, and in his place came the oft-overlooked Ron Vlaar—27-years-old with only eight international appearances to his name.
Van Marwijk’s biggest gamble, however, was to deploy both Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar—strikers with 73 goals between them last season but with precious little time spent operating in tandem.
None of the changes paid off in the end, but then again you could argue that this Dutch side would have never contended at Euro 2012, anyway. Such was the level of dysfunction.
You could also argue that van Marwijk’s Holland simply wasn’t set up to play the type of football we’ve seen in Poland and Ukraine this spring. Installed ahead of 2010 World Cup qualifying, van Marwijk’s side progressed all the way to the final in South Africa by being excessively physical and relying on the abilities of playmaker Wesley Sneijder and winger Arjen Robben to win their individual match-ups.
It was the ideal side and the ideal strategy to contest a cold-weather World Cup that also happened to be one of least aesthetically pleasing in the competition’s history. And by running roughshod over their footballing legacy the Netherlands quite nearly ransacked the place and escaped with the trophy.
Two years on van Marwijk’s squad has been revealed for what it really is—a combination of selfish, unimaginative forwards and thugs who would rather crack a rib than play a pass. In that, it was hardly disappointing to see them crash out at the group stage. The Dutch national team can be much better than this, and its legacy certainly deserves better.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer