Defense, Aging Stars, and Hard Truths - What is Happening with the Dutch?

The biggest soccer news at the national team level is currently the Dutch and their woeful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. The new tournament format championed by Michel Platini, UEFA’s president, to allow 24 teams rather than only 16 was supposed to allow smaller countries like Iceland, Wales, Ireland, etc. to qualify for a tournament they normally wouldn’t have much of a chance playing in. However, this past week the Netherlands lost to tiny Iceland 1-0 on home soil and then 3 days later lost 3-0 to Turkey in a nearly “must win” match for their campaign and sit in 4th place behind Iceland, Czech Republic, and Turkey respectively. This means that for the Dutch to qualify for the tournament in France next summer they need Turkey to lose one of its next two matches to slip into 3rd place and the qualifying round. So what has become of this traditional world soccer power? Wasn’t the core of this Dutch team in the World Cup Final in 2010? Didn’t this team finish 3rd place at the FIFA World Cup last summer? The answer is yes and that is part of the current problem.

Last summer, I wrote a World Cup Preview for all of the teams in Brazil leading up to the tournament. In group B, I picked the Dutch to finish 3rd behind Chile and Spain and get knocked out at the group stage level like they did in the Euros in 2012. I was wrong though and it was Spain who was too old and underperformed, while the Dutch led by Arjen Robben (who played possibly the best soccer of his career) and coach Louis van Gaal’s coaching tactics marched into a 3rd place finish. After seeing the current Dutch team’s problems I went back to my preview of their team from last summer and now see that my predictions were correct but were one year too early. When looking at the preview below written last summer, keep in mind that some of the newer Dutch players you saw and learned about last summer were not widely known before the tournament and the truth is that they need a lot more of those guys and need to put the 2010 World Cup finalist generation out to pasture.

Netherlands: The 2010 World Cup finalists bring many of the same players they had 4 years ago and haven’t added much young talent except in the defense. At the European Championships two years ago, this team lost all 3 of its games in the group stage and finished as underachievers, a stigma that has long haunted talented Dutch teams. The problem traditionally lies in the players’ oversized egos and their inability to gel as a cohesive unit. The current Dutch squad suffers some of the same issues, but if world class talents (and egos) like Robin Van Persie (Manchester United), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), and Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray) can work together, they could have some success in Brazil. Now here’s a test for you… In the next 5 seconds, ask yourself if you can name a single Netherlands defender or holding midfielder in the current squad … If you were able to do so, you are either a total soccer nerd (this is a good thing by the way!) or a die-hard fan of the Oranje. Most soccer mortals would struggle to recognize any names from the goalkeeper up through the defensive players. Gregory van der Wiel (PSG), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord), and Jetro Willems (PSV Eindhoven) are the “star defenders” and 30 year old goalkeeper Michel Vorm (Swansea City) is between the pipes. It goes without saying that the Dutch will need to go forward with fury if they are going to have any success in this tournament. Coach Louis van Gaal has an even larger ego than any of his players and will look to bring his success from Barcelona and Bayern Munich to the current Dutch squad.

Group finish: Chile has the edge on the Dutch in team spirit, collective play, and the comfort of playing in a country/climate that is not foreign to them. The match vs. Chile will be critical for the Dutch but our guess is they bomb out in the group stage just like they did in the Euro 2012 tournament.

As we look at the Dutch team in September 2015, gone is coach Louis van Gaal who is at Manchester United, and Danny Blind, the current coach (3rd in the past year) has yet to see his team score a single goal in European qualifying since he took over. The Dutch are certainly in dire straits and the defense and lack of solid holding midfielders continue to be a key issue. If the Dutch want to get their campaign back on track, they will need to learn from other aging “golden generations” of the past (think Italy 2010, Spain 2014), thank the guys who have served them well for many years, and then replace them with new, hungry, and youthful players. Is it too late for the Dutch for Euro 2016? Their fate lies in Turkey’s hands and only time time will tell.

By: Jeff Davis