Let’s look at the way we had to operate during qualifications.
And allow me to first draw your attention of the Pre-Qualification period.
1. WC 2014
Van Gaal decided to change the 4-3-3 tactics of Oranje drastically, to not get obliterated by the likes of Spain, Mexico et al at the Word Cup in Brazil. He worked diligently to get his players to get this game plan under their belt.
It didn’t work too well. Oranje’s best results came when he abandoned 5-3-2 at half time to play 4-3-3. The key thing for us though, was the quality of players like Robben, Vlaar, Sneijder and Memphis. We also got a bit lucky. Spain had a 2-0 opportunity (Silva), Australia had a massive chance to 2-3 which they missed and Oranje was given a soft penalty later in the tournament (was it Mexico?). The Costa Rica game, we couldn’t put to bed and we didn’t create much vs Argentina.
Our 3rd spot was achieved thanks to Germany’s trashing of Brazil earlier on. The home team looked dazzled and rattled and gave up after Holland’s quick goal.
Coming out of the World Cup, several players made big moves to Portugal, Italy and England. Highly disruptive in the flow of a player. And most players would focus fully on their club, once back in action for qualifications so early in the season against less attractive opponents in less attractive circumstances. It happened to us, to Spain, to Germany, Italy and Portugal too.
I do believe we were quite complacent too. We reached #3 at the World Cup and entered a qualification group that many felt was impossible not to win. This was subconsciously taken into the game. “We can play on 80% as we are Holland. No way Iceland can beat us!”. That sort of thinking. I’m sure players will deny this but I am positive this played a part too.
2. Guus Hiddink vs Louis van Gaal
After Van Gaal’s straightjacket approach, the KNVB in their glorious wisdom, decided to go totally the other way, appointing Loose Guus to manage Oranje. He also was instructed to return to 4-3-3. As a result of massive criticism from the media, fans and ex-players. In the Italy friendly, this failed and as the Czechs also play 5-3-2, Hiddink decided to go back to 5-3-2 for the first qualifications game. He couldn’t use the same team as Van Gaal used though and the team never looked like the Brazil team in execution. Danny Blind was caught between a rock and a hard place. Danny is a Van Gaal adept and uses analysis and thorough preparation, like Louis, while Guus is more a “enjoy yourselves out there” kinda coach. Body language of the two sharing the bench at times was telling…
3. Available Players
Czech Republic away
Against the Czechs, Hiddink missed key players from the World Cup. Vlaar and Robben were both missing. We played alright, created chances but failed to score more than one. And Janmaat had that atrocious back header in the last minute which cost us the draw. (Hiddink punished Janmaat immediately for this, which didn’t go down well in the squad. A faithful soldier who played well for Oranje was axed for one mistake… The players who failed to score up front were not held accountable).
A must win game. And we did. Not pretty, but who cares (especially now). Afellay and Van Persie scored and Afellay had the assist on Huntelaar (Tiju, paying attention??). No Janmaat, but Van der Wiel. No Vlaar either. Robben was back, as was Lens. Martins Indi played alongside De Vrij.
In October, playing in Iceland… Not a lot of inspiration. But, despite conceding (WC2014 hero De Vrij giving the spot kick away) Holland had opportunities to score. But didn’t. One Arjen Robben for instance, missed a good chance. A dead ball situation (back then already…. nothing new under the sun) gave Iceland the 2-0. We tried to get back into the game but couldn’t. This game was played with most of our top guns available: Robben, Sneijder, De Jong, Hunter, Van Persie but without Vlaar still. Clasie, Klaassen and Memphis are not to blame for this loss (TIJU!!!)
6-0 win. Huntelaar, Van Persie, Robben, Sneijder all in good form. Good goals. You will be happy to know that Clasie, Memphis, Afellay were all involved in this game. Van der Wiel played again, for Janmaat and Bruma played for Martins Indi.
A draw, after conceding yet again. A late Sneijder shot, deflected by Huntelaar got us the point. Memphis and Afellay played the whole match. Van der Wiel and Martins Indi in defence. Nigel de Jong, the captain in midfield according to Hiddink, got subbed and would later on be silently phased out by the same Hiddink.
Tough but decent win away, with Wijnaldum and Narsingh scoring for Oranje. No Robben again, no Vlaar. Daley Blind in midfield. Van Persie with Huntelaar in the team. More tinkering… Janmaat coming back in the team as a sub. Van der Wiel still in starting line up.
4. Hiddink out!
With only 4 games to go (and in need of at least two if not more wins), the KNVB decides to stop working with Hiddink. The experienced coach doesn’t get on with Van Oostveen. Hans Jorritsma, team manager and as such reporting to Hiddink, plays a double agent role. The three meet to talk about their differences in Hiddink’s Spain home and the end result is Hiddink being sacked, with Daley Blind thrown in the deep to secure a Euro spot. The home game vs Iceland is next up, in September 2015. Basically, early in the new season and as per usual, some players haven’t settled in yet… Martins Indi and Van der Wiel in particular didn’t see a lot of action.
Confidence was low at this stage. Some of our top players were struggling. Van Persie wasn’t happy. Van der Vaart disappeared. Martins Indi lost his spot. Memphis was struggling. The soul was gone from the team. The belief was gone. Guus Hiddink demonstrated this in his post match interviews, where he looked lost.
Danny Blind had to gamble. Four games to go, four victories needed. He decided to go with players who are used to big occasions and puts Robben on a pedestal. Sadly the more experienced lads disappointed and Robben blew his engine up.
Arjen Robben is all pumped up as new skipper to lead Oranje to victory. In 33 minutes, all changes. The Bayern winger is too pumped up and tears a muscle. Martins Indi gets provoked by an Sighthorsson (Feyenoord vs Ajax) and retaliates and gets red. Holland creates opportunities but lacks belief so it seems and poor Van der Wiel has an error that leads to a penalty. In this game we lost Robben and we were already without Vlaar, Van Persie and Afellay. Van der Wiel played as Afellay wasn’t available and Van Rhijn was no longer starting for Ajax. Tete was spotted as top talent but considered too early to call up. Oranje struggled in the matches with eleven players, in this game with 10 (for an hour) it simply was too much…
The pressure is on. We copped an early goal again, in a must-win game. And again Blind needed to make changes. Bruma came in, Riedewald made his debut and Robben wasn’t fit to play either. Turkey scores after a brilliant through pass. Holland’s team dynamics and pressure doesn’t work. Not much later, Narsingh gets a similar chance as Turkey and he misses… Memphis creates a tremendous chance for Klaassen who misses. Memphis finds Van Persie who offers Sneijder an amazing shooting opportunity but the Gala midfielder aims right at the goalie. Three good opps, none taken. Then Blind makes an error and Cillesen looks horrible when Turan scores the 2-0. De Vrij leaves at half time with knee injury. Memphis creates another chance for Oranje in the second half. An unmarked Wijnaldum can score with his head, but uses his shoulder. Memphis is hacked down again by Turk with yellow. Ref doesn’t care but should have given a red. Luuk de Jong misses big chance as well and late in the game, Turkey scores their third after a foul committed by Caner.
A must win game for Oranje and we do. Again, lots of changes: Krul, Tete, Van Dijk, Riedewald, El Ghazi and Huntelaar are in. Artificial pitch. Holland attacks and has a good phase. Memphis and Blind combine well but the winger misses. Wijnaldum scores not much later. Sneijder scores a beauty in the second half after a wonderful passage of play. El Ghazi has a wonderful chance to 0-3 but misses. Oranje has to win and wins, in a sometimes pretty good performance.
Czech Republic home
Zoet in goal as Cillesen and Krul are out. Riedewald, Tete, Bruma and Van Dijk are back four. Probably never had a back four consistently for two games and 1,5 years after Brazil we play with a totally different defensive line. El Ghazi for Robben again and Huntelaar instead of Van Persie again. The Czechs have qualified already, and you can tell. They play really well. But, counter attacking style. Inviting Holland in. Memphis with first opportunity, Oranje has good start. But the game is slowed down too much and Sneijder sits deeper and deeper. Van Persie is warming up as Holland needs more creativity and pace. Our defence fails twice. Incl Zoet. He didn’t look good with the 0-1 and the whole defence failed for the 0-2. Van Dijk and Zoet aren’t dealing with cross. Czech’s get red card for tackle on Memphis. Van Dijk very close to scoring. Tete is one of the few decent players. And to add insult to injury, Van Persie scores own goal. The same van Persie deserves a penalty later but is denied. Huntelaar and Van Persie get Oranje back into the game, 2-3 but we needed more but we didn’t get more.
Everything that went right for us in Brazil, went wrong in this qualification campaign. Injuries, bad luck, bad decision making, loss of form. So many chances missed, so many unlucky and unlikely situations. Van Persie own goal, Sneijder missing chances, Memphis missing chances, penalties conceded but never received, etc etc… As if the Devil had a say in it.
5. Perfect Storm
Overall, we also lack quality. If quality is defined as a the total requirements to play top football. Sure, technique, they all have. They all have tactical smarts. But leadership, desire, mentality, physical presence…this is where we lacked the most.
Add it all together – wrong coach, wrong tactics, individual mistakes, key players missing, no team dynamics – and even the best football nation can lose against Iceland and Turkey.
Something to add here, is the pretty crucial element: our lack of European top clubs. In the past, coaches were always able to draw from the key players of good performing clubs. Most teams in the 1970s and 1980s used Dutch players. When Ajax and Feyenoord ruled Europe in the early 70s, Michels used the top players from both teams in Oranje. They both played 4-3-3, no sweat. In the early 80s, the coach tried it with the AZ Alkmaar top players (Peters, Jonk, Tol, Kist, Hovenkamp) and in the mid 90s Guus Hiddink went with the Ajax talent pool. That effect slowly died out. But today you’ll find that Spain is making use of the Barca framework, which enables Spain to have a recognisable playing style, just like Germany has Bayern Munich and Italy have Juventus. England has a couple of top teams, mostly with non English lafs and hence, there is your England hangover. The Dutch have failed to impress in Europe at club level for some time, with this season a notable exception with PSV doing well in CL. For this reason, lots of people push Blind and his staff to go with the PSV skeleton for Oranje. Zoet, Bruma, Willems, Propper, Van Ginkel, to be supplemented with top players from other clubs like Sneijder. Robben, Bazoer, Van Dijk and Tete for the remaining spots. Obviously, some people believe the combination Willems, Propper, Luuk de Jong should be utilised. But this PSV core might well drift apart. Van Ginkel is still owned by Chelsea, Willems and Bruma might make a move and Luuk de Jong might lack real quality… The fact that Dutch clubs underperform in Europe will definitely have its impact on Oranje. But that is a fact of life. For now.
The good thing is, the Euros will be over and done with in 4 weeks or so. It will be history. And we will be facing Sweden without Zlatan, who will have trouble getting worked up for the qualifications so soon after the Euros. While Holland will pull a “Czech Republic”. We will want to eat the opponent and we will start our flow with a good solid win over the Swedes.