For the last twelve years or so, whenever a World Cup or a Euro’s has rolled around, predictions have been made as to who might win. Uppermost in the guesses, the name of Holland has frequently been suggested.
Sadly, and somewhat unbelievably, that is not to be the case this time around as the Dutch fell well short of expectations, in concerning and frankly pitiful fashion. It marks the end of one of modern days footballs most turbulent qualifying campaigns and is the start of a huge inquest into exactly what went wrong for Holland.
The downfall can be traced back to the last World Cup. Louis van Gaal’s swashbuckling Total Football philosophy saw his team drive right into the semi-finals of the World Cup, blowing away perennial power figures such as Spain and Brazil as they secured a wholly respected third place. Then van Gaal resigned as the temptation of Old Trafford’s hotseat became too enticing. A move not altogether unexpected, but evidently Holland had the squad to ride out the minor bumps that may follow. Besides – Guus Hiddink was taking over. Hardly an amateur was he?
Optimism was to grow when the draw for Euro 2016 was revealed, pitting Holland against teams like Turkey, Iceland and the Czech Republic, who were expected to fall somewhat gracefully on the altar of Holland’s successful qualifying campaign, but not prove an exhausting task for a squad who were now ranked amongst the very best in the world.
In Hiddink’s first two games in charge, the Dutch underperformed, losing a friendly against Italy before a 2-1 defeat to the Czech’s in their opening qualifying game. Merely a bumpy patch, but cause for concern didn’t begin to appear until the 1-1 draw with Turkey. By this point, Holland were in trouble. Even in their 3-1 win over minnows Kazakhstan, they were behind for 45 minutes before finally overcoming them. The team of stars that reigned supreme over many in Brazil were beginning to crumble.
Questionable tactics from Hiddink seemed to be the cause of the Netherland’s failings. Having spent time under van Gaal adapting well to his preferred 3-5-2 formation with full backs Daley Blind and Daryl Janmaat marauding the channels, Hiddink proceeded to play 4-3-3, leaving the determined but ultimately diminutive figure of Wesley Sneijder isolated on the wing and expected to play a defensive role too, whilst dropping Janmaat to the bench in favour of the more solid but inexperienced Bruno Martins Indi.
Furthmore, big names like Memphis Depay and Arjen Robben simply did not step up to the plate, whilst the performances of Robin van Persie and Nigel de Jong saw questions snipe as to their ability at the top level, with age a critical factor towards their shortcomings.
As Hiddink then threw in the towel in late June and was replaced with assistant man Danny Blind, suspicion was raised as to the new man’s ability. A short stint in charge of Ajax being the highlight of a less than inspiring management CV. Furthermore, when Blind proceeded to drop mainstay name Janmaat and replacing him with Jairo Riedewald, and the gamble backfired horrifically with a 3-0 demolition job at the hands of Turkey, the inexperience of Blind told many truths. In a must win game against Czech Republic, Robin van Persie’s inexplicable own goal when in a position of relative innocuousness completely summed up the Dutch’s campaign – looked safe, but ended up appearing very foolish.
A revamp and revitalisation of the national team is in order, and the inquest with tell painful truths for players whom just a year ago were spearheading a total football attitude that earned worldwide respect from their international counterparts.