Euro 2012: Embarrassment of Dutch riches up front
By far the toughest spot to fill on any squad is an effective
center forward, an all-out striker who can carry a team by his
sheer goalscoring ability.
Envy Netherlands coach Bart van Marwijk. He has two.
One, Robin van Persie, has just been named player of the season
by his peers in the Premier League and is still going strong to
give Arsenal, a team he has carried all season, a shot at going
into next year’s Champions League.
The other is unmoved by beauty but moves by stealth. Klaas-Jan
Huntelaar always turns up in the right place and was top-scorer in
the daunting Bundesliga with 29 goals. He has reduced his Schalke
strike partner, Raul Gonzalez, to a sideshow with a hustling game
epitomizing the working class roots of his club.
Compare the luck of the Dutch to the dearth of World Cup holder
Spain, which has to count on a return from injury of David Villa or
a sudden return to form of Fernando Torres to spearhead its
For Van Marwijk, though, the embarrassment of riches could also
turn into a coach’s embarrassment – Play both? Play one? But which
The Dutch have a history of handling excellent strikers badly. A
spat between Ruud van Nistelrooy and coach Marco van Basten at the
2006 World Cup put the former Manchester United great on the bench
for its decisive game when the Dutch could not find the net despite
numerous chances in a 1-0 loss to Portugal in the second round.
Now, Van Marwijk has nothing but praise for Van Persie ahead of
the opening match against Denmark on June 9.
”A great player,” he says.
The question is whether he will perform in orange as well as he
did this season in Arsenal red, a struggling team that only got
close to the top because of Van Persie’s season-long
With one game to go in the Premier League, the Dutchman has 30
goals, four ahead of Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney.
It is an uphill task. Some may already see him as half the
player he was two months ago, a time when he found the net blindly
with goals of sublime beauty. Last weekend, he added two more to
give Arsenal a 3-3 draw against Norwich and keep it ahead in the
hunt for a final guaranteed Champions League slot.
His motor had to run so much more than previous years and at
some point it has to run on empty. The question is if Van Marwijk
can get him revved up for another month.
An alternative would be to play him in a more withdrawn role as
a support striker and let Huntelaar run amok up front.
Huntelaar proved the point against England. After Van Persie
failed to score in the first half, Huntelaar came on and almost
immediately created space with a smart run for Arjen Robben to
advance and score the opener.
Soon after, Huntelaar scored on a powerful header but the clash
with Chris Smalling knocked him out cold and he had to be taken
off. In 15 minutes though, he had made his point.
”An incredible goal,” Van Marwijk said. ”Brilliant.”