Netherlands Camp Focus – Improvement still not complete as concerns over defence still exist

The Netherlands are far from the perfect package as they head into Euro 2012, but they are improving steadily and Head Coach Bert van Marwijk is confident that their progress will be at optimum levels when the Oranje face Denmark on June 9. There are no doubts about Holland going forward, as their six-goal display against Northern Ireland on Saturday testified, but the problems still remain defensively.

Against Michael O’Neill’s disappointing side in the Amsterdam ArenA, young PSV defender Jetro Willems was chosen to start at left-back and van Marwijk faces the decision to opt with either Willems or Sporting Lisbon’s Stijn Schaars. Schaars has a certain defensive nous that could improve a Holland defence which conceded three against Bayern Munich and suffered a lapse in concentration to lose at the death against Bulgaria in recent friendlies.

Willems’ attacking talent will excite the Dutch public, who are still disappointed at the style of football van Marwijk adopted in the 2010 World Cup, and with the left-back being just 18, he is expected to be a regular in the Dutch side for the next decade. Another defensive worry for van Marwijk is the fitness of Malaga centre-back Joris Mathijsen, who was substituted in the 17th minute against Bulgaria with a hamstring problem. Mathijsen is expected to be fit for the first game and is expected to partner Everton stopper John Heitinga at the heart of the Oranje defence.

Heitinga’s performances at Goodison Park this season have been highly impressive and if Mathijsen can recover from injury, they have the quality to marshal the top strikers at the tournament. However, if the Malaga defender is ruled out against the Danes, there could be a problem. The Dutch defence does not have adequate cover with Feyernoord’s Ron Vlaar and Stuttgart’s Khalid Boulahrouz the recognised central defenders as back-up.

Vlaar played, and scored, against Northern Ireland in the final friendly before the Dutch squad travelled to Poland, but the 27-year-old who captained Holland to U-21 European Championship success in 2007 has failed to live up to his potential. As for Boulahrouz, his spell at Chelsea, as well as Stuttgart, refusing to extend his contract, identifies that he is not an able under-study for Mathijsen.

At right-back, Ajax’s Gregory van der Wiel is undisputedly the number one choice as van Marwijk only has the versatile Boulahrouz as back-up. The 24-year-old has energy and eagerness to support the Dutch attack, but the skills to stop any tricky players on his flank. Van der Wiel has been touted for a move to Chelsea this summer and will be keen to make an impression in a group where he will have to deal with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lukas Podolski to ensure Holland’s progression to the quarters.

Van Marwijk has to ensure that there is a strong defensive base for Holland, because for all their attacking talent, a difficult group with Portugal, Germany and the Danes could undo them. The Dutch Coach may have to go against those who criticised his decision to play two defensive midfielders, because if Mathijsen does not return in time, Holland could easily become a laughing stock.

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