After the World Cup Final defeat, Bert Van Marwijk’s team were quick to pick up the pieces in the qualifiers. Apart from the results that speak for themselves (4-1 v Sweden, 4-0 v Hungary and 11-0 v San Marino), the team produced some dazzling performances in making sure that reaching Euro 2012 was never a problem. They even conquered top spot in the FIFA rankings last August. And there is also plenty to cheer about that key players such as Mark Van Bommel with Milan, Robin Van Persie, in arguably his best-ever season at Arsenal, and Arjen Robben of Bayern Munich are delivering world-class performances at the highest level on a weekly basis.
However, there is also a downside that has occurred in recent months. While the 3-1 defeat by Sweden which prevented a 100 per cent qualifying record was seen as a minor incident, the 3-0 defeat in a friendly against Germany was a serious wake-up call. Although several key players such as Van Persie and Robben were absent that night, it unquestionably showed Van Marwijk’s biggest problem: the lack of depth of his squad. While Germany were fielding one talent after another, Holland reserves Edson Braafheid and Ryan Babel clearly failed to pass the exam.
So it isn’t a surprise that Van Marwijk will rely on the World Cup Final starting line-up. But he isn’t helped by the fact that some players are no longer playing regularly at club level, with Joris Mathijsen at Malaga, Dirk Kuyt for Liverpool and Internazionale’s Wesley Sneijder often not first choices.
Sneijder’s case, in particular, is a bizarre story. Holland’s playmaker has had to shrug off several injuries lately, but when fit he was either sitting on the bench or exiled to the left wing. It was only two years ago that many felt he was, along with Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the world’s best midfielder.
However, with a pre-tournament training camp coming up, and the atmosphere in the Dutch camp always good under Van Marwijk, Sneijder and the others will probably get in the right form and mood.
But what will happen if not all the familiar faces are available? Up front and in central midfield, Van Marwijk has nothing to worry about, but it is in defence and on the flanks where problems might appear. Can the experienced but slowing Heitinga and Mathijsen manage one more tournament? And is young Chelsea loanee Jeffrey Bruma, often left out at Hamburg, a reliable understudy now that Twente’s Brazil-born Douglas is not eligible until after Euro 2012? And what about the weak spot at left-back? Who should replace the mediocre Erik Pieters? The latest candidates seem to be two midfielders, Stijn Schaars and Urby Emanuelson.
And what if the injury-prone Robben fails? Can Barcelona’s Ibrahim Afellay make it in time after missing most of the season with a severe knee injury? And if he won’t make it, then who does? With Babel and Eljero Elia, who is mostly watching his new club Juventus from the stands, written off, who should Van Marwijk go for? Inexperienced wingers such as Ola John of Twente, AZ’s Roy Beerens and Luciano Narsingh of Heerenveen, who perform in the Eredivisie, a minor European League?
As always, the imperturbable 60-year-old coach will make his own plans and will not be distracted by pundits or the public. By May he will see who is available and how he can make the most of them this summer.
By then it will also be clear whether Robben’s 62nd-minute chance in the World Cup Final when standing eye-to-eye with Iker Casillas, was this generation’s best shot at international silverware.
EURO 2012 FIXTURES
09.06.12 Denmark (Kharkiv, Ukr)
13.06.12 Germany (Kharkiv, Ukr)
17.06.12 Portugal (Kharkiv, Ukr)
EURO 2012 SQUAD
22 Tim Krul (24) 03.04.88 Newcastle United (Eng)
1 Maarten Stekelenburg (29) 22.09.82 Roma (Ita)
12 Michel Vorm (28) 20.10.83 Swansea City (Wal)
21 Khalid Boulahrouz (30) 28.12.81 Stuttgart (Ger)
5 Wilfred Bouma (33) 15.06.78 PSV
3 John Heitinga (28) 15.11.83 Everton (Eng)
4 Joris Mathijsen (32) 05.04.80 Malaga (Spa)
14 Stijn Schaars (28) 11.01.84 Sporting Lisbon (Por)
2 Gregory van der Wiel (24) 03.02.88 Ajax
13 Ron Vlaar (27) 16.02.85 Feyenoord
15 Jetro Willems (18) 30.03.94 PSV
8 Nigel de Jong (27) 30.11.84 Manchester City (Eng)
10 Wesley Sneijder (27) 09.06.84 Internazionale (Ita)
17 Kevin Strootman (22) 13.02.90 PSV
6 Mark van Bommel (35) 22.04.77 PSV
23 Rafael van der Vaart (29) 11.02.83 Tottenham Hotspur (Eng)
20 Ibrahim Afellay (26) 02.04.86 Barcelona (Spa)
18 Luuk de Jong (21) 27.08.90 Twente
9 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (28) 12.08.83 Schalke (Ger)
7 Dirk Kuyt (31) 22.07.80 Liverpool (Eng)
19 Luciano Narsingh (21) 13.09.90 Heerenveen
11 Arjen Robben (28) 23.01.84 Bayern Munich (Ger)
16 Robin van Persie (28) 06.08.83 Arsenal (Eng)
Bert van Marwijk (60) 19.05.52
… PSV Eindhoven left-back Erik Pieters did not recover in time for selection after fracturing a metatarsal bone in his right foot … Vurnon Anita, Siem De Jong, Jeremain Lens and Adam Maher were cut from the provisional 27-man squad …
EURO 2012 QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN
03.09.10 San Marino (a) 5-0
07.09.10 Finland (h) 2-1
08.10.10 Moldova (a) 1-0
12.10.10 Sweden (h) 4-1
25.03.11 Hungary (a) 4-0
29.03.11 Hungary (h) 5-3
02.09.11 San Marino (h) 11-0
06.09.11 Finland (a) 2-0
07.10.11 Moldova (h) 1-0
11.10.11 Sweden (a) 2-3
P W D L F A Pts
Holland 10 9 0 1 37 8 27
Sweden 10 8 0 2 31 11 24
Hungary 10 6 1 3 22 14 19
Finland 10 3 1 6 16 16 10
Moldova 10 3 0 7 12 16 9
San Marino 10 0 0 10 0 53 0
By Klaas-Jan Droppert