2nd loss puts Dutch backs against the wall

Netherlands players sidestepped their soaked training pitch for

a gym workout on Thursday, still pondering how their team is

turning into the biggest dud of the tournament.

After a 2-1 loss to archrival Germany, the Dutch are bottom of

Group B with no points after two matches and reaching for the

calculator to determine how they can stay alive in the

tournament.

Germany has six points and needs one more against Denmark on

Sunday to guarantee advancing. Portugal and Denmark are on three

points.

For the Netherlands to go through, they must beat Portugal by at

least a two-goal margin and hope Denmark loses to Germany.

”We will have to come up with something to beat them by two

goals,” said coach Bert van Marwijk, aware that his team faces a

particularly tough task.

Dutch players said German midfielder Thomas Mueller had come to

the dressing room after Wednesday’s match to assure the Netherlands

that his team would do its utmost to beat the Danes.

And Mario Gomez, who scored both of Germany’s goals against the

Dutch, was insistent there would be no easing up against

Denmark.

”We want to win the third game too,” Gomez said. ”This is no

time to take a rest.”

However, it still leaves the Netherlands with a huge task ahead.

Van Marwijk also knows he will have to change strategy to turn the

team around.

The defense showed yawning gaps and plenty of insecurity as the

Germans exploited the space to set up a 2-0 lead from which the

Dutch never recovered. Van Marwijk called the performance ”very

average.”

The wings, so often their preferred way of attack, were closed

off as neither Arjen Robben nor Ibrahim Afellay could stretch the

defense. ”There was no threat from the sides,” Van Marwijk

said.

The defensive midfield looked old and lacking in spark, to the

extent that 35-year-old captain Mark van Bommel was taken off at

halftime by his father-in-law Van Marwijk.

The forwards have been criticized throughout for their lack of

clinical finishing. The combination of Arsenal’s Robin van Persie

and Schalke 04’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar only produced one goal so far,

a late strike from the Premier League top scorer which failed to

dent the Germans.

For all their swagger and pedigree, no Dutch player thought

their current predicament was in the realm of possibility a week

ago. They reached the World Cup final only two years ago, after

all.

”There is this sense of disbelief,” playmaker Wesley Sneijder

said.

Winger Arjen Robben challenged Germany to ”fulfill its duty”

by beating the Danes. ”Then we have our destiny in our hands by

winning by a two-goal margin,” the Bayern Munich winger said.

”But being dependent (on Germany) doesn’t feel good.”

Had Portugal not scored a late winner against Denmark only hours

before the Dutch loss to Germany, the Netherlands would be out.

Failing to advance to the knockout stage would mark the worst

Dutch performance at international level since they failed to

qualify for the 2002 World Cup.

The Dutch have a bad record against Portugal. In 2004, the

Netherlands lost to the Portuguese in the semifinals of the

European Championship. Two years later, they lost to them again in

the second round of the World Cup.

It does not augur well.

Especially since Portugal’s star forward Cristiano Ronaldo will

seek to finally come alive in a tournament in which he has been as

off-key as his Dutch counterparts.

Even though their situation is a lot healthier, the Portuguese

will look for a victory as much as the Dutch.