Euro 2012: Holland find past glories a hindrance rather than a help

Victory over Portugal could yet save the Dutch but they need to show their brand of football is not just a memory

All credentials are cancelled before the start of a European Championship. It is not so long ago that Holland topped the world rankings, even if it was a brief appearance. That status suggested an impact to come at this tournament but they have intrigued people only by falling so far below expectations.

It would take unusual events to save them as Group B closes with a game against Portugal. Holland will need to beat Cristiano Ronaldo and his team by at least two goals and trust Germany defeat Denmark in Sunday night's other match over in Lviv.

Those two teams have already beaten Bert van Marwijk's side. Prior to the championship, there had been some distaste for the loyalty shown to Nigel de Jong in one of the defensive midfield posts. The critics had vindication to ease the hurt of defeat. The Germany coach, for his part, snatched the opportunity to preen. "We knew it could be dangerous if we got into those spaces," Joachim Löw said.

He would have been conscious that the Dutch, renowned theorists of football, would wince all the more at the allegation that their strategy was misjudged. The average Dutch fan might not have been so scathing of tactics or team selection. They could instead have been dismayed most by the manner in which reliability vanished. Robin van Persie, the Arsenal striker and the Premier League's footballer of the year, scored against Germany but he has also showed the wastefulness that can be of such benefit to opponents.

In Holland, there had been particular exasperation with Mark van Bommel. He is the man with the armband and he is also a midfielder with the renown due to a player signed by Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Milan. The relevance of those days is open to question as he ages and the 35-year-old is to turn out for PSV Eindhoven in the season ahead.

He will be on the books of a well-regarded club but there has to be a recognition that it is no longer so simple for him to be the Holland stalwart of days gone by. Van Marwijk grasped the truth in Kharkiv and withdrew Van Bommel, his son-in-law, who had done nothing to check Bastian Schweinsteiger as Germany led 2-0 though a pair of early goals by Mario Gomez. Van Persie took Holland back into contention.

All the same, the Arsenal attacker was still profligate against Denmark. If he made a contribution to the squad, it was mostly by absorbing a great deal of the blame that ought to be spread around far more generously.

Arjen Robben, for instance, is not to be overlooked after so poor a showing and for a display of dissent when he was substituted. His ineffectiveness mattered, although he did have the outstanding Philipp Lahm barring his path.

Every manager counts on his most eminent players but Holland may have been leaning on them more heavily than is good for them. While the country's population of 16 million is far from negligible, the general excellence of Dutch players from the 1970s onwards has verged on the uncanny. They have contributed to the notion that the Dutch have a special appreciation of the game that is as cerebral as, in good periods, it is enthralling.

The achievement of "total football" is always liable to remain just out of reach but the Dutch have in the past come closest to realising it. The days are long gone when Ajax could rearrange the terms of a game by swapping the midfield and attack. The visionary period had its beginnings two generations ago, yet the expectation remains that Holland will somehow have a unique perspective.

They cannot live up to such demands but they are undermined more by the fact that a medium-sized country faces a tough challenge to bring forth a national side of style and greatness. "It's strange that we've lost," said Van Bommel following the 1-0 defeat to Denmark. That sort of attitude can be a hindrance.

His mind is on the illustrious players who have preceded him but the Dutch squad, understandably, have their humdrum figures and there is little depth. In that context, idealism can be a fault. Jetro Willems has promise but the 18-year-old from PSV Eindhoven, chosen at left-back, lacked the knowhow to defend successfully against Germany.

We are rightly captivated by a few of Holland's performers but we should not expect that the confidence and vision with which they discuss football will always be apparent in the games themselves. There is a risk for the Dutch in the temptation to retreat into the position of putting themselves above the fray as they savour their appreciation of the more intellectual aspects.

Luckily, Holland have steel on the field. That aggression was one aspect that did not need to be to be abandoned in the cause of total football. Their pugnacity is certainly not reserved for high-minded debate.

They did win the 1988 European Championship and while that is a lone prize at the higher levels we ought to pause out of regard for the exploits that carried them to three World Cup finals from 1974 to 2010. Holland deserve a little awe even now.

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