Before Euro 2012, the Netherlands were tipped to be one of the tournament favourites with their rejuvenated brand of ‘total football’ that saw them win nine from ten qualifying games, scoring 37 goals in the process. Europe was supposed to be feared by a forward line including the two top goalscorers in England and Germany this season, one of the world’s best wingers and an attacking playmaker whose resume includes Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
However, the plan has not materialised for Bert van Marwijk. His side have floundered under the expectation, only scoring once through Robin van Persie as a consolation goal in the second group game against Germany. Their suspect defence has been exposed and Holland go into their final group game with Portugal needing other results to help them out considerably. The Oranje’s goal difference stands at -2, so they will need to keep a clean sheet against Cristiano Ronaldo and co. as well as hoping Germany do the same against Denmark with a comfortable win.
Maybe van Marwijk is to blame. His defensive tactics at the tournament have been confusing for the Holland fans who saw Rafael van der Vaart feature so prominently in qualifying. The Dutch Coach has decided to deploy two defensive midfielders in Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, which has drawn criticism from various media outlets in Holland. Without van der Vaart’s playmaking abilities, Holland struggled to link up decisively with their front four. Van Persie has not performed as many expected and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar could be given the task of firing Holland into the quarter-finals.
Van Bommel is Van Marwijk’s captain, his leader and, perhaps more importantly, his son-in-law. The 35-year-old is drawing near the end of his international career and is expected to retain his place against Portugal, despite being substituted in the last match. De Jong could be withdrawn for van der Vaart, but if the Manchester City anchor does not play, the defensive cover and speed will diminish significantly. Against Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, the latter facing an easier task against the rookie Jetro Willems who had a poor game against the Germans, defensive help will be essential.
The spirit in the camp is fine, according to van Bommel, but there have been criticisms of the squad from players and the racism row at the start of tournament. Holland’s Euro 2012 has been a disaster and if they fail to achieve qualification tonight, Van Marwijk knows most certainly his job is on the line. The Dutch need to start quickly and pressure a Portuguese backline which threw away a two-goal lead against Denmark in their last game, before salvaging all three points in the last ten minutes.
There has been talk of Ajax boss Frank de Boer taking over at the number one job in Holland, if van Marwijk fails to pull the team out of the fire. De Boer would bring the team back into the ‘total football’ era that he has Ajax playing, so Van Marwijk tonight has to either show he is still capable of brilliant football or find himself unemployed.
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