On the brink | The Netherlands‘ 2-0 defeat to Germany last night could have prevented them escaping from Group B. (Image | The Star)

The Netherlands’ Euro 2012 dream lies in tatters. Having fallen to defeat against Denmark and Germany in their opening games, Bert van Marwijk‘s side have found the net just once, and rely on a very precise set of circumstances in order to emerge from Group B, the veritable “group of death” of these European Championships.

Many pundits have offered their two pennies worth on what is going wrong for the Dutch. Some have blamed Robin van Persie and his recent bought of “stage fright”, others have slammed van Marwijk’s tactics, while a select few appear to have known this would happen all along. However, the Netherlands were not tipped to go all the way for no reason, and thrashed Northern Ireland 6-0 in a pre-tournament friendly. So what exactly has gone wrong? Here is The Armchair Pundits’ explanation for the Dutch disaster.

1) Lack of goals: The Dutch are hardly goal shy. In Arjen Robben, Ibrahim Affelay, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, van Persie and Sneijder they boast 106 international goals, but when opportunities have arisen in this tournament, they have been spurned. It appears as though several different diseases are afflicing the Netherlands. For Robben, it is sheer selfishness and his inability to look up when cutting inside to see if maybe, just maybe, there is somebody better placed than he in the box. Once last night the Bayern Munich winger actually managed this, and created a chance for a team-mate. Had the 28-year-old been so generous in the Netherlands’ Euro 2012 opener, perhaps his side would have broken their duck a little earlier.

Finally scored | Robin van Persie may have netted yesterday, but he still snatched at chances and didn’t look entirely comfortable against the Germans. (Image | Daily Mirror)

Then we must move on to van Persie. Absolutely unplayable this season for Arsenal, the 28-year-old scored goals for fun at the Emirates and a couple of other Premier League grounds. Swap the red of the Gunners for the orange of the Netherlands and you are quite literally seeing two different players. His magnificent goal last night was, contrary to his Euro 2012 performance so far, an anomaly. The turn and shot was vintage RVP, but the rest of the time he has snatched at chances, fired wide, tripped over the ball and generally looked intimidated by the pressure and expectation that have been heaped on his shoulders.

2) Tactics: Here, van Marwijk must take the blame for getting his tactical choices wrong not once, but twice. Leaving Huntelaar on the bench against the Danes turned out to be a big mistake, but more than this, he seemed unable to cope with the stifling tactics of the weakest team in Group B. Kjaer man-marked Sneijder out of the game, while the defence was unable to prevent Denmark’s Michael Khron-Delhi taking advantage of the Netherlands’ off-day. Van Marwijk isn’t pulling any punches, either. Speaking after the defeat to the Germans, the coach said his wingers “lacked pace” and to be fair, he is right. The reliance on Robben and the ineffective Affelay needs to be addressed before the Portugal game, while Mark van Bommel simply does not have the pace for international football. At least, not when coming up against Germany, who appeared every inch the complete side in yesterday’s match.

Show of (dis)respect | Arjen Robben’s pitch-long sulk demonstrated utter disdain towards Bert van Marwijk, the Dutch coach, on whom the pressure has risen exponentially. (Image | Daily Mirror)

3) Team spirit: Big players make big gestures. Yesterday, when substituted for Dirk Kuyt, Robben made his “big gesture.” The petulant winger walked all the way around the pitch, accruing the applause of the crowd, and demonstrating in no uncertain terms his chagrin at being taken off. Not only does this illustrate Robben’s sheer arrogance, it points to a fundamental lack of team spirit and respect for the manager. Van Marwijk will have to be careful going head-to-head with a popular figure such as the Bayern winger: it must just signal the end of his authority and status among supporters.

With one final shot remaining against Portugal, who themselves narrowly came through 3-2 against Denmark, it remains to be seen whether van Marwijk and his charges can solve their problems and put the Dutch dream back on track. If not, the recriminations will begin in earnest.

Tweet the author | @chriskking

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