Euro 2012 preview: Netherlands

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They qualified with stylish ease and have a fearsome front four, says Ben Lyttleton, but the Dutch have problems – not least at the back… 

"You go over there… no, not you…"

They’re never happy, the Dutch. Always fighting. At least, that’s how it seemed after Holland had beaten England 3-2 in a friendly back in February, and the Dutch press laid into coach Bert van Marwijk for starting with Nigel de Jong alongside Mark van Bommel as his holding midfielders.

The hallmark of Holland’s qualifying campaign – in which they won their first nine matches, only losing the last 3-2 to a Sweden side who needed the win to qualify – was the phasing out of De Jong as the second enforcer, replacing him with the more attacking Rafael van der Vaart or Kevin Strootman.

Van Marwijk shrugged off the criticism as the game itself showed the best of what Holland has: in Arjen Robben, a winger who can win matches on his own when the mood takes him; and in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, top scorer in qualifying for any nation with 12 goals and fast closing in on Patrick Kluivert’s all-time record 40 goals for Holland (he has scored 31 in his first 50 games), a supreme poacher.

That’s before you even consider the talents of Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, whose form has veered in opposite directions since the 2010 World Cup Final: Sneijder has had a difficult season at Inter, while Van Persie has been breaking personal records galore at Arsenal. Those two players have had their differences, but Van Marwijk has ended the reign of player power and somehow the pair co-exist with no problems or tantrums.

Van Marwijk’s dilemma is how to replicate Van Persie’s Arsenal form. He has flourished playing between two wingers, Gervinho and Theo Walcott. The coach is under pressure to pick Robben and Ibrahim Afellay out wide, but he likes Dirk Kuyt for his exemplary work-rate even if he’s not a true winger. The other option is to play Van Persie on the right – which was tried several times towards the end of qualifying – so that, like Robben on occasion, he can cut in on his left foot. Alternatively, he could be the No.10 behind Huntelaar... but what then for Sneijder?

He also has a selection quandary in defence, where injury ruled out PSV Eindhoven left-back Erik Pieters. If fit, he could have offered an option by moving across to partner Johnny Heitinga at centre-back, as there have been concerns about Joris Mathijsen’s form at Malaga this season.

However, with no obvious left-back cover for Pieters, it looks like Van Marwijk may have to turn to midfielder Stijn Schaars, veteran Wilfred Bouma – or at the other extreme, the barely 18 years old Jetro Willems, who was fast-tracked from the Dutch U19 squad in late May.

Van Marwijk has made this team more attacking than the World Cup finalists and 
it is to his credit that they are now a stable group, who often compare the camaraderie 
in the camp to that of a club side – but will he stick with De Jong for Holland’s opener against Denmark on June 9? Van Marwijk knows his squad has the ability to go one better than in 2010, but that decision alone could set the tone for Holland’s tournament.

Dutch dejection in 2010

Lesson from qualifying
Scoring goals is the best way to win back public support. Holland managed 37 in their 10 qualifiers, and the memory of the World Cup final against Spain grew ever more distant. “In the space of two hours in that final, they destroyed a 40-year tradition, dragged it through the s***,” said Hard Gras magazine editor Henk Spaan of that match. “It was a disgrace; a lack of any historical insight, leadership and morals.” Van Marwijk’s job this summer is not only to win the tournament, but to restore faith in the old ideals of Dutch football. No pressure, then.

Any of the attacking talents can win a match on their own. The only trouble is, they can’t always manage it together – but if they could be less reliant on Sneijder and Robben, and find a way to get the best out of Van Persie while exploiting Huntelaar’s unbelievable scoring record as well…

This defence may struggle against top-class opponents, which should only encourage Holland to play a more attacking, possession-based game. But Germany’s comfortable 3-0 win in a November friendly, albeit with the Dutch missing five key starters, remains a memory that the Oranje won’t want repeating on June 13 in Kharkiv.

Did you know...?
Robin van Persie’s first coach when he broke into the Feyenoord team – and the man who sanctioned his departure to Arsenal after repeatedly falling out with him – was Bert 
van Marwijk. The pair insist they have both matured and now get on very well.

Expert’s view
Wesley Meijer, Het Parool newspaper
“Many doubt if ‘Oranje’ will be able to defeat the Germans and Portuguese in the group stage. If they can anything is possible. Still, Spain and Germany are expected to be stronger. The squad is largely the same as in 2010, but many want Van Marwijk change his one-striker system and put Huntelaar next to Van Persie, although RvP’s never as good in Oranje as he is for Arsenal.”

Attacking riches but defensive deficiencies. Semis at best.

RvP and JKH: Brilliant Oranje?

Key player
Robin van Persie
In a team with stars all over the pitch, Van Persie’s prolific form for club and country in 2011-12 makes him our key man. In 2011, Arsenal’s flying Dutchman scored 50 goals in all competitions, making the step up from top-level forward to genuinely world-class striker. One of the favourites for the Golden Boot.

The Manager
Bert van Marwijk
The Dutch FA were so content with the nation’s success in the last World Cup, despite losing the final to Spain, that they extended his contract until 2016. A UEFA Cup-winning manager with Feyenoord in 2002, 59-year-old Van Marwijk has fellow ex-players Ernest Faber and Phillip Cocu on his staff and is father-in-law to midfielder Mark van Bommel.

How they play
With the plethora of attacking options that this Holland squad possesses, goals should be a certainty. Sneijder and Van der Vaart, even if deployed deep (in place of destroyers Van Bommel and De Jong), have the technical ability and vision to set up the tournament’s most prolific finishers in Van Persie and Huntelaar. Holland’s attack-minded flair meant they were the tournament’s highest scorers in qualifying, netting 37 times.

Euro record
1960 DNE (Did not enter)
1964 DNQ (Did not qualify)
1968 DNQ
1972 DNQ
1976 Semi-finals
1980 First round
1984 DNQ
1988 Winners
1992 Semi-finals
1996 Quarter-finals
2000 Semi-finals
2004 Semi-finals
2008 Quarter-finals

June 9, Denmark (Kharkiv, 5pm)
June 13, Germany (Kharkiv, 7.45pm)
June 17, Portugal (Kharkiv, 7.45pm)

Netherlands are 7/1 to win Euro 2012 and 66/1 to beat Denmark 5-0
Exclusive Coral/FourFourTwo free bet offer: Bet £30, get £60.
More details

Grp A:
Poland • Russia • Greece • Czech Republic
Grp B:
Netherlands • Germany • Portugal • Denmark
Grp C:
Spain • Italy • Croatia • Republic of Ireland
Grp D:
Ukraine • England • France • Sweden

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