Doing everything but win titles

It is expected that coach Bert van Marwijkwill continue with the World Cup strategy, which represented a marked departure from the Dutch tradition of expansive, passing soccer in favour of a more defensive approach.-AP

There has been a dearth of international titles despite the ingenuity of the Netherlands' approach. And the team, which is always among the favourites with its unique brand of football, has most often remained a story of unrealised potential. The UEFA EURO 2012 is no different as the Dutch embark with a talented ensemble and the promise of another conquest. Amitabha Das Sharma takes stock.

It is a nation that redefined football, but has more often than not failed to reap the rewards. Having revolutionised soccer in the 1970s, by defining ‘Total Football,' the Dutch have been the most enigmatic team thereafter. There has been a world of versatility in their display ever since the legendary manager Rinus Michels broke down rigid specialisation and instituted a fluid system that allowed technically gifted players to swap positions and obtain great results.

There has been a dearth of international titles despite the ingenuity in its approach. And the Netherlands, which is always among the favourites with its unique brand of football, has most often remained a story of unrealised potential. The UEFA EURO 2012 is no different as the Dutch embark with a talented ensemble with the promise of another conquest.

Beginning with the talismanic striker Johan Cruyff, who was the very essence of ‘Clockwork Oranje,' taking Holland to the brink of winning the World Cup twice, in 1974 and 1978, the nation has seen an efflorescence of gifted performers. Cruyff's legacy was ably taken forward by players like Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, who formed the base of the team that won its maiden Euro title in 1988. Michels had returned as the coach to lead the Dutch to the crown. Netherlands hasn't won another Euro title.

Despite a wealth of talent emerging ever since, the ‘Flying Dutchmen' have seen their hopes grounded more often by reasons other than football. Unfortunately, a persistent trait of the Dutch national sides has been the dressing room-destroying egos of the players. This has given the team to the dubious record of playing the most number of World Cup finals without ever winning the crown.

The arrival of Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf and Partick Kluivert in the subsequent years has prolonged the team's reputation for eye-catching, attacking play. The Netherlands renews its quest for excellence in EURO 2012 retaining much of the squad that played the World Cup final in 2010, and under the same coach — the 60-year-old Bert van Marwijk. It is expected that Van Marwijk, who took over from Van Basten after Euro 2008, will continue with the World Cup strategy, which represented a marked departure from the Dutch tradition of expansive, passing soccer in favour of a more defensive approach.

The team, which was forward heavy and with a weak back four, showed tremendous skill and flexibility through players like Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. These players are the backbone of the ‘Oranje' flair that the world is waiting to watch.

They will be backed by the hard-tackling midfield duo of Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, who with their style of play have given the Netherlands solidity. On the flip side, the pair has undermined the ethical beauty of the game that the Dutch profess.

The 22-year-old Kevin Strootman from PSV Eindhoven is a new talent in the Dutch midfield and may push De Jong for playing time if Marwijk looks for dynamism in the centre of his 4-2-3-1 playing format.

The Dutch are strong in the goal with Maarten Stekelenburg and Tim Krul in their ranks, but their back four are not so reputed. John Heitinga and Joris Mathijsen are average centre-backs but Dirk Kuyt's role will be pivotal to the Dutch defensive scheme. Kuyt is an excellent defensive winger and may be deployed to shut down opposition attacks on one of the flanks.

The Dutch won the qualifying Group E scoring 37 goals in 10 games, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie netting 18 between them. Van Persie, who has enjoyed his best ever club season with Arsenal, will likely be Van Marwijk's focal point in attack. The young forward with his exquisite skills represents the true spirit of Dutch football. In the end count, Van Marwijk's challenge will be balancing a more attacking outlook with caution at the back, and if he can do that the Netherlands may well reproduce its World Cup form.

THE TEAM

Goalkeepers: Tim Krul, Maarten Stekelenburg, Michel Vorm.

Defenders: Khalid Boulahrouz, Wilfred Bouma, John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Ron Vlaar, Gregory van der Wiel, Jetro Willems.

Midfielders: Mark van Bommel, Nigel de Jong, Stijn Schaars, Wesley Sneijder, Kevin Strootman, Rafael van der Vaart.

Forwards: Ibrahim Afellay, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Luuk de Jong, Dirk Kuyt, Luciano Narsingh, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben.