Qualifying Group Winners
Coach: Bert van Marwijk
One to Watch: Gregory van der Wiel
As we approach the summer of 2012 all of our minds, well most of them at least, will turn away from the domestic football competitions within our own countries, towards the International arena for the eagerly awaited European Championship Finals, to be held in Poland and the Ukraine. At It’s All In The Game, we shall be profiling each of the 16 finalists that will bid to become the champions of Europe until 2016.
We go Dutch for our next Euro 2012 team profile and take a look at the Netherlands, also known as Holland. The Dutch played their first game as a national team in 1905 against, neighbours, Belgium. Nicknamed the Oranje because of their bright orange strip, a tribute to the Royal House of Holland, the Netherlands’ first tastes of international tournaments were at the 1934 and 1938 World Cups.
It would be forty years, however, until the Dutch re-emerged at a major tournament, World Cup 74 in West Germany, and when they did, it would be to establish themselves as one of the great footballing nations. Holland would go on to qualify for the World Cup Finals on a further seven occasions to date, and arrive at their ninth European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
The Dutch team of the 1974 and 1978 World Cups are regarded, like the Brazil team of 1982, as two of the greatest teams to have never won the World Cup. Under coach Rinus Michels, and led by the majestic playmaker Johan Cruyff, Holland brought the Total Football philosophy, pioneered by cub sides Ajax and Feyenord, to the World stage.
This philosophy, at a basic level, allowed for complete fluidity as each player could play in every position with almost an equal level of skill, it relied on the brilliance of the players, but it worked so well that the Dutch team of that era was dubbed “A Clockwork Orange”.
Unfortunately for the Oranje, their Total Football could not deliver the ultimate prize as they lost in both the final of the 1974 World Cup, 2-1 to hosts West Germany, and, the final of the 1978 World Cup 3-1 (aet) to hosts Argentina. Holland would go on to reach the World Cup Final again in South Africa in 2010, only to be defeated 1-0 by Spain, making them the only team to have reached the final on three occasions, and never won.
Sandwiched in between these two World Cup disappointments was a run to the semi-finals of the 1976 European Championships, the Dutch campaign, however, was characterised by in fighting between the players and coaching staff and they were eventually beaten by, tournament winners, Czechoslovakia.
Tournament success was proving illusive, however that would change as Holland’s finest footballing hour lay ahead. and the Netherlands failed to qualify for the three of the next four tournaments, that would change however, as Holland’s finest footballing hour lay ahead of them.
Rinus Michels turned as coach for Euro 88. West Germany, was the stage; the Dutch team, which included such greats as Marco van Basten, Ruud Hullit, Frank Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman, began the tournament inauspiciously, losing 1-0 to the Soviet Union. A van Basten hat-trick in the next game saw Holland defeat England by three goals to one, setting up a group decider, against the Republic of Ireland.
A draw would have sent Ireland through and Holland home, but in the 82nd minute Kieft popped up with the only goal of the game for the Dutch, to set up a mouth-watering semi-final against arch rivals West Germany. With the scoreline locked at 1-1, the match seemed to be heading for extra time, an 89th minute winner from, hero, Marco van Basten broke German hearts, and secured sweet revenge for Holland’s 1974 World Cup defeat.
The U.S.S.R., in what would be their final tournament as a single entity, would be Holland’s opponents in the final. Having already beaten the Dutch in the opening game, many thought that the Soviets would secure the trophy. It wasn’t to be however, as an iconic Ruud Gullit bullet-header put Holland 1-0 up before van Basten sealed victory, with what is widely regarded as the best goal that the tournament has ever seen, a rasping volley at a nigh on impossible angle from a high, cross-field pass.
Since those halcyon days, the Dutch have struggled to re-claim former glory, they came close, reaching the semis at Euro 92, World Cup 98- where Dennis Bergkamp starred, and Euro 2000, they also made the final at World Cup 2010, however the big prize has remained tantalisingly beyond their grasp.
Current coach Bert van Marwijk has done a good job since taking over after Euro 2008, securing qualification for the last World Cup with a 100% record and, leading Holland to the final. Building upon that run, the Netherlands have been impressive in qualification this time round, winning nine out of ten games, losing only one, to Sweden, when qualification had already been secured. Van Marwijk also seems to have created relative harmony with in the Dutch squad, which is very important as splits within the camp have put paid to many a Dutch team in the past
Looking at the current squad, Holland have a number of very experienced players. The likes of van Bommel, Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt and Johnny Heitinga have over 300 caps between them. These old pros are complimented by a couple of younger players such as Afellay and Strootman. With strikers such as Huntelaar, Robben and van Persie, goals shouldn’t be hard to come by, van Persie’s club form this year makes him one of the favourites to win the Golden Boot.
A player to look out for next summer is Gregory van der Wiel, the 23 year old is a right-sided attacking full back, known for his pace and crossing ability, the youngster has become a firm part of van Marwijk’s first team,racki ng up 29 caps. Holland are right up there with the best in the World at the moment, defeat to Spain in the 2010 World Cup will have hurt, and the Dutch will be keen for revenge. Along with Germany, Holland pose the greatest threat to Spain’s domination of Europe, I’d expect them to make the semi-finals at least.
Fan photo by Yme Bosma. Van Persie Image by seriouslysilly.