Country: The Netherlands
Nickname: The Clockwork Orange
Rankings: FIFA (4), Elo (2), SPI (4)
Euro History: Champions (1988), Semifinal (1976, 1992, 2000, 2004), Quarterfinal (1996, 2008), Qualified (1980)
Last Five Tournaments: F – QF – R16 – SF – DNQ
History: The Dutch revolutionized soccer in the 1970s. A legendary manager, Rinus Michels, teamed up with a legendary player, Johan Cryuff. With Ajax, Barcelona and the Dutch national team, they perfected “total football.” They broke down rigid specialization, playing a fluid system, with versatile and technically gifted players swapping positions. Cryuff would play up front, drop deep into midfield and drop off to the wings. It was beautiful to watch and hellacious for man markers to defend. The Dutch reached consecutive World Cup Finals in 1974 and 1978. Michels returned as Dutch coach in 1988 to lead them to a European Championship.
The tactics would change, but players such as Marco van Basten, Clarence Seedorf and Dennis Bergkamp would prolong the team’s reputation for flashy, attractive attacking play. The present team will have plenty of that. It also, unfortunately, has the other persistent tait of Dutch national sides, elephantine, dressing room-destroying egos.
Qualifying: The Dutch won qualifying group E, finishing three points ahead of Sweden. They had a 9-1-0 record, losing 3-2 away to Sweden with a place in the finals secure. Holland led Euro qualifying with a +29 goal difference, though much of that was due to a 16-0 margin home and away against San Marino (outscored 53-0 in 10 matches). In recent friendlies, they have lost 3-0 to Germany and not looked impressive in a 3-2 win against England.
Coach: Sixty-year-old Bert van Marwijk, who took over for Marco Van Basten after Euro 2008, will coach the team again. He can be polarizing for Dutch fans. On the one hand, he brought the Dutch to their first tournament final in 22 years. On the other, his cynical tactic of playing the two most brutish midfielders in South Africa contradicted the country’s ethos.
Squad: This will resemble the squad the Dutch fielded in 2010, forward heavy with a weak back four. Up front they have tremendous skill and flexibility, deploying players such as Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. They will be backed up by a savage-tackling midfield duo of Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong who were the soccer equivalent of the Bash Brothers in the Mighty Ducks. You could see 22-year-old Kevin Strootman from PSV push De Jong for playing time.
They are strong at goalkeeper with Maarten Stekelenburg and Tim Krul in reserve, but their back four could be vulnerable. Mathijsen and Heitinga are average center backs with van der Wiel and Boulahrouz they form a decent, though not especially dominating quartet. Pivotal for them may be Dirk Kuyt. He’s an excellent defensive winger and may be deployed to shut down opposition attacks on one of the flanks.
Tactics: Van Marwijk plays a practical 4-2-3-1. The two defensive midfielders will protect the back four. The fullbacks won’t venture too far forward. The base will remain sound. He’ll rely on the creativity up front to create scoring chances.
Mental State: Arjen Robben is a mess right now. He missed a penalty in extra time that could have won the Champions League Final. It visibly weighed on him afterward. His own fans booed him during a mid-week testimonial match. His confidence has to be shot. He’s a crucial player for the Dutch. They need him playing with full confidence and menacing down the wings. If he can’t leave Munich behind him, the Dutch could be in trouble.
Prognosis: On paper the Dutch should be clear third favorites to win the tournament behind Spain and Germany. They return the same coach and mostly the same squad that reached the 2010 World Cup Final. That said Sneijeder is coming off a disappointing season. Van Bommel and Kuyt aren’t getting any younger. South Africa may have been an opportunity missed.
Fun Fact: The Dutch are the tallest people on earth. The average male height is just over 6 feet, which makes Wesley Sneijder really, really short.
[Photos via Presswire]