Holland crashed out of Euro 2012 without a point to their name after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Portugal. Paulo Bento’s side produced a superb attacking display, and only some wasteful finishing prevented them recording a handsome victory.
Cristiano Ronaldo produced two expert finishes as Portugal came from behind to beat a Netherlands side who had taken an early lead through Rafael van der Vaart’s delightful long-range curler. But what will be the lasting legacies of the encounter? We take a look at the main talking points.
End of an era?
With the failure to qualify for the knockout phases in a major tournament for the first time since 1980, many are predicting severe upheaval in the Dutch camp as they look ahead to the World Cup in 2014. Players such as Arjen Robben, Mark van Bommel, Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder will all be past their peak by the time the tournament in Brazil comes around and the Dutch FA may now choose to bring in the next generation so they have a settled side in two years’ time.
The Netherlands finish their Group B campaign as the side with the most shots on goal, but with just two goals to show for their efforts. The Dutch have had 59 attempts at breaching their opposition’s defences but couldn’t produce the required quality often enough to make their domination pay. In fact, Holland can boast three of the top seven players with the most shots off target at the tournament. Robben alone registered nine wayward efforts in 263 minutes of football.
A poor team morale is a recurring theme in Holland’s recent past. On Sunday night, the Oranje started well, but once the game started to go against them, heads dropped and the lack of team spirit in the camp began to show as they lacked the character and belief to pull together and overcome the adversity. Missing leadership and seemingly any trust in each other’s ability to turn things around, they produced an increasingly stagnant second half display and a failed to do justice to the undoubted talent on the pitch. The constant back-biting, complaints, tantrums and arguments can’t be conducive to a successful campaign.
Van der Vaart vindicated?
Rafael van der Vaart publically criticised his own omission from the Holland starting line-up for the opening games, after Bert van Marwijk opted for Mark van Bommel in the centre of midfield. But the Tottenham midfielder was unleashed on Sunday night as the Netherlands aimed to secure the two-goal win that could have seen them through to the quarter finals. The ‘player-power’ selection appeared to be vindicated after 11 minutes as the playmaker curled a delightful shot into the Portugal net. But as the game went on, Portugal exploited the open spaces in the Dutch midfield. We’ll never know if Holland would’ve benefitted from a more solid midfield.
Holland have now won just one of their last 11 meetings with Portugal. The Oranje have not come out on top in an encounter between the sides since October 1991 when they beat the Portuguese 1-0 in the qualifiers for Euro 92. The previous two meetings between the sides both resulted in the Dutch being eliminated from a major tournament – Euro 2004 and the World Cup in 2006, so Sunday night made it three in a row, as Holland were once again sent crashing out of a competition by their Mediterranean rivals.
Under new management?
With Holland set to enter a period of transition as several of their older players make way for a new generation, the Dutch authorities may decide to make a change at the top. Van Marwijk has been heavily criticised for his dour approach to the game which is not in keeping with the Netherlands tradition of ‘total football’. His decision to include son-in-law van Bommel in midfield for the first two group games alongside fellow defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong reportedly caused disruption in the camp – and was widely blamed in Holland for the back-to-back defeats that ultimately cost them a place in the quarter-finals.
Ron finds his form… at last!
Ronaldo has now scored in each of the last five major tournaments thanks to his two goals against the Dutch. Bento turned his ire on critics of his misfiring captain after he squandered two one-on-one chances against Denmark.
But the playmaker hasn’t plundered 146 goals in 144 games for Real Madrid over the past three seasons for no reason. And the 27-year-old finally hit the heights and turned his profligacy into goals right on cue.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento named an unchanged team for the fifth consecutive competitive match. Despite losing to Germany in their opening clash, the former Sporting Lisbon boss kept faith with the same 4-3-3 line-up in the 3-2 win against Denmark, and he kept faith with the same XI against the Dutch. Bento wants a balance to his side and is keen for his players to be settled and playing football like a club team, defend diligently, keep calm and hit the opposition on the counter. Classic Portugal!
Fan power fails
The Dutch fans bedecked in their famous ‘oranje’ came in their legions to support their men-in-black. The Portuguese were mightily outnumbered in the 38,000-strong crowd, but could boast the legendary Eusebio watching on from the stands. The Netherlands may have come hoping for a miracle that would have sent them into Kharkiv to paint the town orange in celebration, but it will be a Portugal party on a mild and muggy night in eastern Ukraine, after their 2-1 win. They will no doubt be outnumbered again in the semi-finals as thousands of Czech fans again make the short trip into Poland on Thursday.
Catch them if you can
The three amigos Nani, Joao Moutinho and Ronaldo caused the Dutch backline a headache throughout with each of them constantly drifting off the line. They made runs inbetween midfielders and defenders. They were patient and were a constant nuisance to centre-backs Ron Vlaar and Joris Mathijsen. Holland just couldn’t pick them up. This trio are sure to have quarter-final opponents Czech Republic quaking in their boots.