Two games in and the team I tipped to win Euro 2012 (Holland) have lost their opening two games and are on the verge of being eliminated in one of the biggest upsets of recent International Tournaments. What are the issues the Dutch are facing now and could they really beat Portugal and progress?
When ranking the chances of Europe's top nations, I spoke of the Holland squad calling it one of the most “exciting” in Europe. On paper I'm right, any club manager would drool uncontrollably at having either one of Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar even Afellay in their squad, the Ducth have all five. Their attack is fairly sound, whereas their defence is where the issues are, even with the two rocks of Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel in front. Even so, their attack is finding it hard to cope as well.
Starting with their defence, Van Der Wiel at Right-Back is coping probably the best of the four, Mathjisen was okay against Germany after being injured against Denmark and Heitinga has been alright too, but no-where the near the level that players like Mats Hummels for Germany or even Daniel Agger for Denmark in the same group are playing right now. Jetro Willems on the left had a torrid time against the strong German attack, being at fault really for both goals being out of position several other times too. To be fair, they were very good goals from Mario Gomez, but the defence allowed those to happen. Willems has the chance to come good for Holland at the next tournament (assuming they will be there) but Holland's defence is no unit like Germany and the side that could have won the World Cup two years ago looks long gone.
Then there's this awesome attack which to me just isn't working. It's well documented there's issue between a few players in attack, Sneijder doesn't like to pass to Van Persie and Robben it seems doesn't like to pass. Robben's inability to play a ball in has cost the Dutch dearly. Both Van Persie and Huntelaar are some of the most in-form strikers in World Football right now. Really only Lionel Messi is ahead of them for goals, for Van Persie at Arsenal you see constant supply and therefore constant goals, whether it be from Alex Song and Mikel Arteta behind him or Gervinho and Theo Walcott next to him, Van Persie is fed the ball all the time, it's how he gets thirty goals, not often does Van Persie create goals for himself like a Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo even his Arsenal predecessor Thierry Henry would with majestic runs with the ball. That doesn't make Van Persie a worse player, it makes him a better goal-poacher and finisher, alongside his ability to make chances for other players in a deeper more Dennis Bergkamp position. However, you don't see this constant feed to him for Holland. He's had chances, he scored the consolation tonight, but most times the ball is out wide to Sneijder and especially Robben, where Arsenal's players would look for Van Persie, these players go for goal almost every time and so far no shot of there's has looked like coming off. To me, this is their biggest issue, no player at Holland seems to want to feed Van Persie like they do at Arsenal, they're in it for themselves, they don't even want to feed Huntelaar when he's on the pitch.
To get Van Persie scoring, same really with Huntelaar you have to give them constant service and in this last game Sneijder and Robben have to be told their role is to get it into Van Persie and let him do his job, stop going for the spectacular shot to win Goal of the Tournament, because for two games it hasn't worked and they wont be scoring it if they continue anyway. Can Holland beat Portugal? Yes, they can, can they win by two goals? If they start working as a team then yes. Can they keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet? Judging by his performance against Denmark, I'd be more scared of Postiga, but seriously, perhaps.
They're not on the plane home yet Holland, they perhaps wouldn't deserve a Quarter Final place at the expense of Denmark or even Portugal, but they can try and get it, otherwise this is one of the biggest tournament disappointments in years.