When doing my preview posts for Euro 2008 I suggested that Holland may struggle to get through the group of death, mainly because I didn’t have much faith in their defense, and couldn’t see them getting past world champions Italy, and World Cup finalists France. I even felt that Romania, who I thought would be a surprise package, could pip them, as they did in qualifying, as leave the Dutch in last place. After two rounds of games not only have the Dutch qualified for the quarter finals and won the group, with a game to spare, but along with Spain and Portugal, look like the team to beat.
While I do maintain that the Dutch defense is not the strongest, and has yet to be really tested, their brand of counter attacking football has been phenomenal, and the scores of 3-0 and 4-1 against Italy and France, the World Cup finalists, have born this out. They make full use of their strengths and have played, tactically, the perfect game, considering their line ups. The speed at which they move the ball, from defense, to the back of their opponents net, has been amazing. Robin van Persies goal against France is perhaps the best example of this and surmises exactly what the Dutch are aiming for.
While their defense may not be the best, with Edwin van der Saar organising things at the back, and proving to be as safe as always, they have not been tested. The van der Saar effect is something that Manchester United have found since he arrived, with a good defense becoming a great defense. His calmness, composure, and positioning, added with his still great reflexes and shot stopping, have brought the best out of the defense, who know there is another wall behind them to be breached.
Any team that can bring on the likes of Robben and van Persie off the bench has to be stacked with attacking talent. They have both been used with great affect to kill off the opposition, as was shown against France. With Sneijder and van der Vaart pulling the strings in midfield, van Nistelrooy leading the line superbly, and de Jong and Engelaar keeping things tight in the middle, the Dutch have soaked up their opposition, and counter attacking with speed and effectiveness. The team effort has been rewarded with results and acclaim.
When we get into the knock out stages, and should the Dutch come up against Spain or Portugal, we could have the game of the tournament, with attacking play and substance rewarding the fans with goals. The Dutch defense will surely be tested then, as will their composure and belief, but for now the Dutch have certainly been the best team on show, and have drawn a marker as the team to beat.
The Dutch could be on their way to only their second major international honour, putting them up there with the 1988 Euro Champs winning team of Gullit, Rijkaard and current coach Marco van Basten.