Dutch out, with zero points, zero style
No wonder they call it ''the Neverlands.''
Dressed in funeral black instead of their trademark orange, the Netherlands was outplayed for large spells before losing 2-1 to Portugal in its final European Championship game in Group B on Sunday. Again, a team with sparkling individual talent leaves a major tournament without a cup to show for it.
It was the first time in more than a decade that the Dutch failed to reach the second round at either the World Cup or a Euros. And the first time since 1984 that the Dutch missed out on a place in a Euro quarterfinals.
Midfielder Mark van Bommel's verdict on the 2010 World Cup finalist was a bleak one.
''We came here to win the cup, but we don't belong at the top anymore,'' he said.
Captain Rafael van der Vaart was barely more optimistic, saying: ''We simply have to do much better.''
Worst of all, the Oranje's brand of fluid, classy football is increasingly being consigned to the history books.
Two years ago, coach Bert van Marwijk let results dominate over attractive football and he reached the final of the World Cup. This year, nothing is left. No good play, not a single point in the first round.
''And this is almost the same team as two years ago,'' Van Marwijk sighed.
Robin van Persie, with all the class of the Premier League's top scorer and the sweet moves of vintage Arsenal, had yet another dud of a tournament. The Bundesliga's top scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar could not get a starting spot on the team, and when he did on Sunday, he got neither passes nor crosses.
''We all need to look in the mirror and realize that this should never happen again. Let it be a hard lesson,'' defender Ron Vlaar said.
With the newfangled lineup after losses to Denmark and Germany, the Dutch needed to win by two goals to stand a chance of advancing.
They made it a one-goal challenge within 11 minutes. Arjen Robben drew defenders on him, and smartly slipped the ball to creative midfielder Van der Vaart who rewarded his starting spot with a great curling left-footer from 20 meters.
If the massive throngs of Dutch fans thought this was the beginning, they were wrong. It was effectively the end.
The team's tender heel was its defense and it soon showed.
''There was this insecurity,'' Van Marwijk said, and the team shrank in the face of the challenge ahead.
And there were no better players to expose it than Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.
Wingbacks Jetro Willems and Gregory van der Wiel were out of their depth against both wingers, forcing the whole team back when it should have been looking for two more goals. And the central defenders were error-prone too.
At first, Ronaldo clipped the post, and Helder Postiga failed to exploit a glaring defensive error. It was more than a warning. It was the start of a deluge of chances that lasted till the 90th minute when Ronaldo hit the post again. In between he had scored twice.
In the 28th, a bad clearance, gave right back Joao Perreira space and his superb through ball found an unmarked Ronaldo. It was a perfect example of how the center of defense didn't hold and after a clinical finish the game turned into a no-contest.
In the 74th, the Dutch were caught for pace again, with Nani sent down the right and a perfect cross finding Ronaldo in the center. The Dutch defenders were hapless victims of Ronaldo's class, as he turned them, picked a spot to score while Van der Wiel was left on the deck.
Wesley Sneijder had been great as a playmaker in the first two games, but was out of position playing on the left and Robben could not get decent crosses in. As a result, Huntelaar was left totally stranded in the center on a night when little went right for his team.