Plenty of help is needed to reach quarter-finals but there is no rush to condemn coach Bert van Marwijk - for now
As usual in sport, it's the hope that kills you. On the morning of the showpiece that would bring together the might of Holland and Germany, the polls in Voetbal International declared plenty of confidence. Only one out of four voters thought the Dutch would lose and 60% predicted a victory. Fast forward 24 hours and the mood has swung. Three out of four believe their team won't qualify out of this dastardly group.
There is a chink of light. That Holland still have a chance to clamber into the knock-out stages even though they have lost their first two games has given the players and management a stay of execution as far as the condemnation goes. Naturally, there is a fair degree of criticism in the air, but everybody knows they may as well hang on until the last game and see what unfolds. More than anything else, the mood after the defeat by Germany was sombre, rather than sniping.
Even Arjen Robben's diva moment, as he unpeeled his layer of orange while stomping around the pitch parameter after he was substituted, has not caused much of a stir. It is impossible to imagine an England player doing the same without a hysterical inquest into values and respect for the shirt. When the Bayern Munich winger was interviewed there was no mention of such stuff, which would appear to be the least of their worries.
Like most of the players Robben just sounded a bit sheepish. He was predictably low about a tournament that has been extremely demoralising so far, and a game for which he had been under a particular microscope as a star of the Bundesliga. "It didn't have to be my evening, it was meant to be our evening," he said. "Oh well, now we are empty-handed."
Not quite. The Dutch are clinging to the notion of a miraculous gift – they can still qualify on goal difference if the numbers favour them and Germany beat Denmark in addition to a Holland win over Portugal.
Wesley Sneijder, their most positive player so far, is urging his team to shake the monkey off their backs: "We need to get our routines on the pitch back, the things we are used to, the courage to play. It's all or nothing on Sunday, and perhaps we can bring our own football back in that game."
That sentiment provokes more questions. Just what has happened to their own football? How, exactly, did it get mislaid? While the reproach is being shared around the contribution of the high profile players, and recognition that their defence is not up to scratch, the majority of finger pointing lands in the direction of the coach, Bert van Marwijk. The question of why he persisted against Germany with the same players, and same tactics, that failed against Denmark is a pertinent one. Holland improved once they made substitutions, but by then they were trailing 2‑0 and the worst of the damage was done.
Before the tournament, Van Marwijk outlined how he doesn't agree with the idea that a team needs to be especially flexible in its strategy. "A good team plays within a certain structure," he said. "You hear coaches say their team can play four or five different systems but I don't think that's realistic."
Now he has to be daring, try something different, spring a surprise. Surely a way of playing to harness the scoring potential of both Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar must come to the fore.
Not since Dick Advocaat took over from the godfather of Dutch coaching, Rinus Michels, 20 years ago, has there been a coach who came into the national team job with such comparatively little clout in the Dutch game. Advocaat was a protege of Michels, and surprisingly became the General's assistant before he had any experience in charge of a professional team, which paved the way for his opportunity.
Then came eminent domestic coaches (Guus Hiddink, who had won the European Cup with PSV Eindhoven, and Louis van Gaal, whose success in the domestic league and in the Champions League with Ajax was followed by two La Liga wins with Barcelona) and two legendary players in Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten.
Van Marwijk was neither a legendary ex-player, nor an internationally renowned coach. He had done some impressive work in his two spells with Feyenoord, moulding a team capable of winning the Uefa Cup in 2002, but his appointment four years ago was not greeted with overwhelming excitement.
Even though Holland reached the World Cup final two years ago, Van Marwijk is regarded as a little too bland, and there is regret that the team has not kicked on in the last two years. The Euro 2012 qualification campaign promised plenty, but the proof is in a pudding that at the moment has a sinking look about it.
As Robben says, Holland are now in a position where they are reliant on Germany "and that doesn't feel good". Mind you, right now Germany are a little more reliable than them.