Ask The Zombies in July, or, How Are The Dutch Going To Do at Euro 2012?

In less than two weeks, various qualifying teams from throughout Europe are going to get together in Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012. It’s like the World Cup, but without most of the World. Still, some of soccer’s (which I will call football going forward) greatest stars will be competing for glory.

Now, about the Dutch. Yes, the country is called (provoking visions of clouds and grey veils) the Netherlands or, more quaintly (insert visions of tulips and blonde farm wives in wooden shoes), Holland. But, whether you are a fan or an opponent, they are often referred to as “the Dutch”.






The Dutch met Spain in the World Cup finals in 2010. It should have been the seminal moment of my football-loving/Dutch-cheering life, but (see here for more) I was turned-off by their strategy, which – with the exception of some honest-to-God deserved victories against mortal foes such as Brazil – seemed kind of cynical.

There’s winning and then there’s winning. The Dutch, since the early 70s, have always emphasized beautiful football: flowing, sexy, unpredictable, and effective. Unfortunately, since World Cup 98, that effectiveness came into question as a combination of generational talent turnover (Ruud van Nistelrooy was not exactly Dennis Bergkamp) and some daft coaching decisions (chief in my mind, Louis van Gaal’s decision to squander a two-goal lead against Portugal in the WC 2002 qualifiers) created an existential crisis. Beautiful football wasn’t getting results.

I understand why Bert van Marwijk was chosen for the job as coach for the latest generation of Oranje: the last few coaches simply hadn’t inspired, with Marco van Basten seeming to have run out of ideas (not surprising considering his lack of coaching experience) by the end of World Cup 2006. With van Marwijk the Dutch found effectiveness at the cost of style – some would say a part of their soul – by sacrificing the emphasis on performance that even those from opposing teams admired from afar.

If the verdict of the years between 2000 and 2006 was “beauty isn’t everything”, certainly “winning isn’t everything” was my verdict in 2010. They could have taken the final, and I still feel it would have felt sour.

What lies ahead for Euro 2012? Well, for one thing, a very tough group-stage draw: Germany, Portugal, and Denmark – with only two teams being able to move forward onto the quarter finals. Both Germany and Portugal are tough opponents, with the former being their historic nemesis (though they haven’t met many times in recent competition). Portugal are plain dangerous, if only because they bring out the worst (read: thuggery) in the Dutch. Thing is, if we can get past the group stage, then the quarter finals should be easier, with either the Czechs or Russians to beat (though there is an outside chance co-hosts Poland could pull ahead and capture first or second place in Group A).

Past the quarter finals, it’s anyone’s guess. Spain, the favourites, are well-placed to make it to the finals. If England doesn’t implode, they may last long enough for suspended striker Wayne Rooney to show up for a match. I commented recently that England putting Rooney on their squad list – slated to miss three Euro 2012 games due to a volcanic temper – at the expense of a capable striker who could be fielded immediately…

was akin to “Let’s run weaponless through this crowd of hungry zombies so that we can make it to the munitions factory sixteen miles from here”. Smart-risky? Crazy-risky? Ask the zombies in July.

The Dutch, in comparison, likely will not take risks. They will hack, shoot, and steamroll through their competition. My prayer is that, by July, they don’t become the zombies they are supposed to pass through.


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