Monday, June 18, 2012

Holland: Dead and Buried

Group B, this tournament's Group of Death, ended up looking fairly straightforward considering the standings at the end:

Germany - 9 Points
Portugal - 6 Points
Denmark - 3 Points
Holland - 0 Points

Germany, clearly the group's best team, won all their games. Portugal won their games that weren't against Germany, and someone had to win in the Denmark vs Holland clash. Makes sense, right? Well, it actually wasn't as simple as all of that. Germany was indeed the group's best team, and maybe the tournament's best team (we'll see if that's proven true in the elimination rounds), but the rest is more of a muddled mess than it appears from the points. Portugal may be clear with six points but it's hard to say that they were the obvious choice for second best. Their game against Germany was close, but the Germans were always better and Portugal needed a little luck to get a result, luck that never came. Against Denmark, Portugal may have been slightly better but they also let Denmark hang around too much and were lucky to have a win. Were it not for Varela's late out-of-nowhere equalizer, Portugal would have been sitting on one point while Denmark was on three. All of a sudden, Denmark and Germany are playing a very cautious, low key game as both would go through on a draw, while Portugal is playing a Holland squad that has already been eliminated and doesn't have to throw wave after wave of attack forward to try to win by two or more goals. In other words, that one late goal changed everything. Portugal lost to Germany, barely beat Denmark, and beat a desperately open Holland. It is impressive to make it out of the group and I don't want to downplay that to too large of a degree. But at this point, it's hard to see Portugal as anything more than a team that made it out of the group, certainly not an odds on favorite to win the tournament.

The real story from all of this, however, is obviously the Dutch crashing out of Euro 2012 without registering a single point. From third favorites (behind Spain and Germany) to out of the tournament, it is hard to think of a more disappointing finish in recent history. The questions becomes; what went wrong? Is this Dutch team really as bad as their record shows? How can that be given that they were in the final game of the World Cup just two years ago? Unsurprisingly, the answer is complicated.

To start, the players did not perform. Plain and simple. Arjen Robben continued his Champions League final form of nothing connecting properly and he had his worst match against Portugal on Sunday. Wesley Sneijder was brilliant against Denmark, but then disappeared in the games against Germany and Portugal. Robin Van Persie scored a potentially crucial goal against Germany, but his failure in front of goal against Denmark may well be what cost his team a chance to move on. Mark Van Bommel and Nigel de Jong were used to lock down the midfield, but they proved unable to execute. The list could go on and on, but the point remains the same: the players that were chosen did not do the jobs that they were supposed to.

How much of the failure by the players is failure by the coach, though? Bert Van Marwijk took essentially the same squad from the 2010 World Cup, so it is hard to fault him on that front. It is easier to fault him on his use and motivation of these players as they were clearly not playing together as a team but rather as individuals thrust into a general structure. Sneijder needed to be a playmaker but was too frequently absent, Robben needed to be a threat down the right but instead turned into a black hole, Ibrahim Afellay needed to provide width but never seemed to be in the matches, and so on. If these players had particular roles that they were intended to fill, it was not obvious to anyone watching the matches. Perhaps these players were always going to be uncoachable regardless of who was trying to lead them. But given their talent and even given recent Dutch success, that does not appear to be true.

Whoever is to blame, expect massive shake ups going forward. It is hard to envision a future where Van Marwijk is still leading the Dutch team and, at 34 years old, it's hard to see Van Bommel remaining as captain in the future. Who comes in to coach the team and who is chosen to be captain will have a great influence on what the Dutch become in the future. The present, however, is lost to them. Congratulations to Germany and Portugal for moving on to the quarterfinals. Check back here tomorrow for a breakdown of Group C's qualifiers.

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