Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Euro 2008 Team Profiles: The Netherlands

Holland's known for many things: bicycles, liberalism, marijuana and perhaps one of the most dreadful domestic football leagues. It's a great place to visit when you're a young, itinerant backpacker with a thirst for boobs, booze and brazen displays of idiocy, but I digress. There's more to the place than that.

Despite the dismal showing that is the Eredivisie, the country has been steadily pumping the rest of the footballing world full of talented players for a good two decades now, and while hardly any of them succeed in England [here's looking at you, Dirk Kuyt and Afonso Alves], they become quality players if given the right climate and care in which to grow. A bit like their weed, really.

Dennis Bergkamp is top of the list. I've lost track of the number of circus-like goals he knocked in for the Gooners. Marc Overmars had some decent pace, and let's not forget the irritating goalscoring rate of Ruud van Nistelrooij. However, you have to look a little further back than that to see their true class: the holy trinity of Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, and Ruud Gullit [excuse the atrocious Euro-techno accompanying a couple of those vids].

Watching the three of them play together was like watching a masterclass in what football should be. Gullit had the pace and the skills, Rijkaard was the prototypical brutish enforcer in central midfield, and van Basten just couldn't stop bloody scoring. The trio tore up all comers on the world stage and then ran riot through Serie A when they all played for AC Milan from 1987-1993 [how on earth did Berlusconi pull off that package deal?].

A joy to watch and a joy to listen to, the Netherlands enjoyed their best ever team.

It speaks volumes of their place on the world stage that this regional dominance amounted to little in the big tournaments; at the peak of their dominance, from 1983 [when many of their best players burst onto the scene: Ronald Koeman, Jan Wouters, Marco van B, Gullit, Jan van Tiggelen, Danny Blind] to the mid-90s, they won one European Championship in '88 and precious fuck-all outside of that.

Disappointment followed in the World Cup -- they didn't even qualify in 1986! -- and a 2-1 defeat in their Italia '90 second round match against Germany [I still remember it vividly for Rijkaard's sending-off for spitting as he and West German perm-wearer Rudi Voller went at it all day long]... and they've been struggling to regain credibility ever since.

It's tough when all your stars vanish at the same time, although they had an embarrassment of riches to replace them all with, thanks to the magic of the Ajax youth program: Overmars, Bergkamp, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Roy Makaay, Clarence Seedorf, and Aron Winter.

And still nothing! All that mercurial talent wasted!

Moving to the present day, they've aroused yet another bumper crop of talent that is currently peddling itself all over the continent, including Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and the hilariously regal-sounding Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink.

Add to that the frustrating injury-plagued winger Robin van Persie [or, as he's known, Robin van Porcelain], and there's no reason why they shouldn't perform well.

A familiar pose for RvP

The Netherlands are the ultimate disappointers on the world stage. Some would choose England right away, and personal heritage aside, I'd put that tag firmly on van der Sar and co. Why? They've created some of the world's most memorable players, and at one point, had a team with no perceivable flaws from top to bottom. And they still couldn't win.

They come into Euro '08 with a strong, young squad full of attacking flair, and another horrible Eredivisie-bred defense. If that league could teach the offside trap successfully, we should all cower in fear and bow to your South Africa '10 Champions, The Netherlands.

On to the squad, and then on to the questions!

Edwin van der Sar [Manchester United], Maarten Stekelenburg [Ajax], Henk Timmer [Feyenoord]

Khalid Boulahrouz [Sevilla], Wilfred Bouma [Aston Villa], Tim de Cler [Feyenoord], John Heitinga [Atlético Madrid], Joris Mathijsen [Hamburger SV], Mario Melchiot [Wigan Athletic], André Ooijer [Blackburn Rovers], Giovanni van Bronckhorst [Feyenoord]

Demy de Zeeuw [AZ Alkmaar], Orlando Engelaar [FC Twente], Nigel de Jong [Hamburger SV], Ibrahim Afellay [PSV], Wesley Sneijder [Real Madrid], Arjen Robben [Real Madrid], Rafael van der Vaart [Hamburger SV]

Robin van Persie [Arsenal], Dirk Kuyt [Liverpool], Ruud van Nistelrooy [Real Madrid], Klaas-Jan Huntelaar [Ajax], Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink [Celtic]

Could England beat this team?
Yes. We could. I am confident in that. As evidence, I point to our so-so team in Euro '96 who managed to put 4 past van der Sar and co. I reckon we could do the same again, thanks to that leaky backline.

Breakout Player?
It has to be Huntelaar. He's been incredible for Ajax since joining them in 2005 [70 goals in 82 appearances], and already managed 7 in 12 for the National Team. Still relatively unknown at this point, this will be the tournament where enough people see him and his goalscoring, and he parlays it into a move to Italy or Spain, like most do from that neck of the woods.

Biggest Question Mark?
Whether their defending can hold up. Traditionally slow and clumsy at the back, they'll inevitably struggle against the Mediterranean twinkletoe players in the tournament, and might concede more goals through penalties than anything else. They also lost the speed demon Ryan Babel to injury, so you wonder whether their other brittle wing options can hold up against the rigors of playing more than one game per week.

Worst Player?
Khalid Boulahrouz. Average in Germany, signed for big bucks to Chelsea, failed to win any hearts with a string of shaky performances and a straight red card at home to Arsenal at the end of the 2006/07 season that ultimately cost them a chance for the EPL title. He's absolute toss.

Can this team win Euro 2008?
Nope. No chance, sorry. They'll lose players to injury and they'll cough it up again in the quarter-finals or so. Huntelaar's goal-scoring will not be helped by the slew of goals teeming in at the other end.

What is the squad's pre-made excuse for not winning Euro 2008?
Um.... at the risk of overkill: their defending is terrible?


The Fan's Attic said...

If the Dutch win, will anybody be upset about it like they were when the Italians won the World Cup?

Everybody loves the Dutch.

Keith said...

yeesh. Bouma is going to pass out from cleaning up for the rest of that murderer's row. To be clear, their defending is 3/4 terrible, 1/4 excellent.

Goat said...

I'd like to see her Netherlands.

Lingering Bursitis said...

Holland's style of play is just like that girl on the right:

gorgeous up-front, a disaster at the back

Gunshine said...

@ fan's attic

Agreed. Everyone loves the Dutch as they pose no threat outside of the group stage. I think I own three Dutch jerseys.

I would posit (posit!?) that the Spanish have been bigger disappointments than the Dutch. At least the Dutch have won something since color television arrived. As my German cousin likes to say, the Spanish are too lazy to win anything . . . they take every afternoon off.

MoonshineMike said...

I have a friend who works for Tom-Tom in Amsterdam, and they just passed a no-smoking of tobacco in public. Yet, smoking of other things are OK still. That dichotomy spells the ability of the team - lots of forward thinking combined with backward steps.

Eladio said...

There are only two things I can't stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures, and the Dutch.

Precious Roy said...

Re: The video... I forgot what a totally awesome footballer John Oates was.

Joep Smeets said...

just to be an asshole, because otherwise a lovely post like always but

Vennegoor of Hesselink is hardly a talent. The man almost turns 30, Roy Makaay wasn't part of the Ajax youth system and Huntelaar is only going to break out of anything if Ruud goes down injured.

also, we're going to win it :D

Joep Smeets said...

also our worst player, BY FAR, is Joris Mathijssen of HSV. Boulahrouz didn't do average in Germany, he did well, something that Mathijssen can't even do.

Holland & Liverpool fan said...

Yo lingering burshitis, you know nothing about football!

The netherlands just beat italy, the world champions at the EUROS
There goes your stupid frickin theory about Holland!!!
THey will win EURO.

Lingering Bursitis said...

Whither now, Holland and Liverpool fan? Whither now?

Please quieten down.