Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar were among the goals for the Oranje, but Maarten Stekelenburg will not be happy as his 100% clean sheet record was ruined after Holland conceded their first goal of the World Cup by virtue of Samuel Eto’o’s boot from the penalty spot. Bert van Marwijk’s side remains functional without exciting too much, but as the Coach has insisted in the past, results are valued above all else. The performance was not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it was just not the Holland we know and love from the past playing total football, free flowing with flair. However, you can only beat what is put in front of you and the Netherlands will not want to peak too soon in any case.
The Netherlands faithful would have been delighted with the events that unfolded in Group F. The Dutch have managed to avoid reigning world champions Italy and Paraguay in the second round as the former were beaten 3-2 by Slovakia, leaving their World Cup defence in tatters. Many of the Dutch may assume that victory over Slovakia in the final 16 is a mere formality, but van Marwijk will have to keep his side focused as the Slovakians will attempt to exploit Holland’s slightly suspect defence. The Group F runners-up were well worth their win against the world champions, who are admittedly past their best, but Slovakia are a tall and physical side that have plenty of pace. Former Chelsea midfielder Miroslav Stoch may be one for the Dutch to keep an eye on as he has rapid pace, is not without technical ability and would relish taking a run or two at a Netherlands defence that at times looked uncomfortable with the pace of Eto’o.
Arjen Robben finally made his bow in this year’s World Cup when he made a cameo appearance off of the bench for the final 17 minutes. Many believe that the Bayern Munich winger is vital to the Netherlands’ hopes in the tournament and he has already made an impact. Robben had a shot seven minutes from the final whistle which cannoned off the post and kindly fell into the path of Hunterlaar, who was thankful of the gift and slotted the ball into the back of the net. Arsenal’s van Persie has also finally opened his goal scoring account after being so prolific in the warm-up friendlies before the tournament started.
Although the Netherlands are yet to put in a truly inspiring performance they are probably the most impressive European side as England and Germany have faltered, with Italy and France (finalists in 2006) already out of the competition. However, the unspectacular nature of their victories has not been received all that well back home. Also, van Marwijk’s 4-2-3-1 formation is not currently getting the best out of Wesley Sneijder and it is a system that relies on its wingers, which is why Robben’s injury layoff has been a huge blow so far. The lack of creativity has negatively affected the form of players such as van Persie, who has been starved of service. Rafael van der Vaart has also come under fire as the most divisive player in the squad’s setup. He has been described as a ‘fish out of water’ who seems to clash with Sneijder which has led many fans call for him to be dropped for a more natural wide player like Eljero Elia, if Robben is not yet fit enough to play a whole 90 minutes.
The Coach has called for patience regarding Holland’s transition from a total football side to one that favours a pragmatic approach. Van Marwijk said: “Two years ago I said Holland had to learn how to win ugly games. Now I could say we’ve taken a step forward. I’m more confident about our strength now.”