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The curious case of the Oranje

It’s a funny old world when a team can lose its opening two group games in a major international competition and still be able to progress with a 1-0 victory in their final game but this is the situation the Netherlands find themselves in.

After yesterday evening’s deserved defeat to Germany, the Dutch need to beat Portugal in their final group game and hope Denmark lose to the Germans to progress.

So, how did it come to this? How did it come to the pre-tournament third favourites for the trophy be oh so very close to falling at the first hurdle?

Naturally, the very first element to point out is that the Dutch are in the toughest group in the tournament alongside a German side who would be the best in the world at many other times in history, an always dangerous Portugal outfit and a Denmark side very sorely underrated. Two good teams have to drop out of this group and inevitably the team that fares worst in the group will come under the most scrutiny.

The two key problems for the Netherlands would appear to be one traditional issue for their national team and a team selection issue.

To start with the latter first, the wealth of attacking options open to Bert van Marwjik is well documented with their being two very good players in each position going forward for the Dutch.

The problem would appear to stem from the conundrum over whether to play Robin van Persie or Klaas Jan Huntelaar. They have both come into the tournament off of the back of hugely successful domestic seasons for their clubs where they finished as top scorers in their respective leagues.

Huntelaar was the top scorer for the Netherlands in qualifying for this tournament but van Marwjik as opted for van Persie, possibly in the belief that he is more mobile than Huntelaar thus more fluid attacking play can be developed between his front four. This has yet to bear fruit as the Dutch have not scored with van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Ibrahim Afellay and Arjen Robben all on the pitch together.

With this attack not clicking and Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart hardly impressing last night, big question marks remain over how van Marwjik can get them to gel and just where it went wrong in the first place after their impressive qualifying campaign.

Perhaps a simplistic explanation comes from that traditional Dutch problem explained earlier; the seemingly never ending problem of their team spirit falling apart as soon as they set foot inside the host nation of a major international tournament.

Sneijder slamming the “pathetic egos” he believes are in the Dutch squad, van der Vaart not long after complaining about  being left on the bench, Robben’s overly dramatic exit from the pitch last night and scenes of much arguing between the Dutch players last night is another problem van Mawjik needs to confront, if indeed it is possible to confront an issue that appears to be a national trait.

Perhaps each problem is solved by the other; more goals and winning helps engender team spirit whilst greater team spirit leads to more successful football. Van Marwjik needs to unravel this chicken and egg situation but he’s quickly running out of time this tournament to do that.

This is the kind of thing van Marwjik will be aiming to get back to in their must win game against Portugal on Saturday.


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