I’ll admit that I cheerfully glossed over Holland’s weaknesses in an earlier post. I wrote down in my notes the times that France, in particular, dominated play. But France was handicapped by an incompetant manager who couldn’t or wouldn’t change when he needed to (the most obvious change was to switch to an attacking 4-3-3 and bring on Benzema, but I digress). Against Russia, Holland faced a disciplined team and far, far superior manager in Guus Hiddink. And Hiddink knew exactly what would break Holland’s beautiful counter-attack: constant attacking pressure.
This is not to say that Holland didn’t dominate large chunks of the game; it did. The crisp passing and fluid movement was there throughout the game. Except for the first 20 minutes of the second half and the entirety of the second half of extra time. It was tragic. Marco van Basten’s men couldn’t recover against a team that pressed them and used their possession to the fullest advantage. So, Holland died at roughly 4pm CST. Cause of death: weakness in the back four.
Marco van Basten’s reputation will also take a hit, I think. I don’t want to be too hard on him because he did a great job and I wish him the best at Ajax next season. But the fact of the matter is that Rafael van der Vaart (husband of Sylvie) was the best player on the pitch (other than Andrei Arshavin) and nailing his set pieces and crosses the entire day. To go away from him in the second half, even for the re-hot Wesley Sneijder, was inexcusable. That had to be van Basten’s call and, if it was a player freelancing, he should’ve been severely reprimanded by van Basten. I still think van Basten did it right and used his players to the best of their abilities for the most part.
The Dutch, as they are wont to do, seduced me. I failed to heed good advice and reject their seduction. I loved their attacking style and even convinced myself that they would do enough to compensate for their at times poor defending. I was completely wrong. I read and laughed as Gabriele Marcotti went off on people who compared Dutch soccer circa 2008 with the iconic teams of Total Football. I didn’t laugh because he was wrong (it wasn’t true Total Football) but because someone was silly enough to throw a wet blanket on the inevitable Dutch parade. I guess the laugh’s on me, now.
I’m going to miss the Dutch. I got three matches worth of unmitigated joy out of them. I also got nearly 3 hours of heartbreak. I’m going to miss their awesome orange jerseys. I’m going to miss their passing, which was a thing of beauty. Like F365, I thought this was the year they broke through. Instead I’m left with the Germans, the Spanish (perennial underachievers themselves), the superbly-managed Russians, and the chronically crocked Turks. Nonethess, the semi-finals and finals should be great mainly because the Italians aren’t involved. Go Spain!