Oranje;33 chosen – short of firepower for Germany 2006 but future’s bright

After the Dutch team’s insipid performance at the Euro 2004 (where they practically impressed no one, save a couple of old fans like myself who actually got to watch a Dutch team win a major tournament’s penalty shootout after suffering for so long- in this lifetime!), the old school built around the Ajax team of 1995 who won the European Cup disintegrated and the changing of the guard happened just as it should be. Alright, the Oranje did reach the semi-finals of Euro 2004, but the manner in which they self-imploded is blasphemous. It’s almost as if they were telling the hosts that they couldn’t possibly win it, but since they’re in the semis anyway..’ah, what the hell’. Of the fighters of the Oranje that day, I salute Marc Overmars but the other 10 were utter shit.
Anyway, let bygones be so. Marco van Basten has since taken the hotseat.
Last I was discussing with a fellow Oranje fan back in 2004 (after Dick Advocaat got the cuttlefish to fry on his own vocation), Marco’s gonna rein in all the foreign talent for a complete and thorough analysis of their capabilities and then sort them out through those vital qualification games. (read: Marco’s got no clue what he’s gonna do, so he’s gonna stick to the same guns and hope the Dutch go through.)
What ultimately happened is beyond comprehensible logic.
Van Basten raided the ‘Eredivisie’ (that’s the Dutch Premier League for you) like a tuckshop and chose his set of fighters deliberately (but also arguably in an audacious move). Those established stars at the Serie A, La Liga and some in the EPL escaped his radar. Names which make for an unfamiliar read like Barry Opdam, Ron Vlaar, Khalid Boulahrouz and Joris Mathijsen cropped out of the blue and made the grade in the Nederlands Elftal. Where goes the Old Guard? Jaap Stam and Frank de Boer has long since called it a day, at least for the national side. Gio van Bronckhorst is still there, but I believe that his time spent at leftback is numbered. Mike Reiziger has an on-off form which saw him ship to PSV and play games more suited for his age.
Frankly, if I were to choose a back-four for the Dutch- I’d also have opted for a lesser-known makeup consisting of the likes of Patrick Paauwe, Wilfred Bouma and probably Andre Ooijer at rightback. What van Basten was counting on was simpler than fiction:- consistency.
It’s true that the bondscoach has also taken his time to analyse Dutch club AZ Alkmaar for his base of operations. Take a brief snatch of the latest Dutch 33-man squad at any sports webpages and the name of ‘AZ Alkmaar’ crops up more often than even PSV Eindhoven or Ajax Amsterdam/ Feyenoord triumvirate. Do not forget that Liverpool’s Jan Kromkamp was also on AZ’s paycheck when van Basten was already hired to call the shots for the qualfication games.
AZ Alkmaar was probably one of those teams some people who watch football/soccer as their main sport all their lives and never heard of the club. The days of FIFA 98, 99, 2000 Pc games and so forth had possibly poisoned my mind to the extent that AZ Alkmaar cannot possibly be the first club a national team coach would come to call for players.
But AZ’s run of form in the 2004/2005 season at the Eredivisie did them no harm.
They were agonisingly close to qualifying for their first ever Champions League playoff spot and had a great run in the UEFA Cup that made other European teams sat up and take scant notice.
At the centre of the AZ midfield of a 4-3-3 formation- Barry van Galen, the oldest Dutch player to be capped in the KNVB’s history at age 35 (life doesn’t stop at 30, it seems). Another long-suffering AZ star is definitely Denny Landzaat, who made the Oranje a couple of times before van Basten and has rightfully claimed his place.
As I read through the list of players of AZ chosen by van Basten, it occurred to me that these players are not those who suddenly rose to the top of their game by chance in one or two seasons and became model footballers overnight.
Tim de Cler was a product of the famous Ajax youth system back in the 1998/1999 season, where he could not make the grade for a first team Ajax place and was shown the door. 7 years later, he made Ajax cringe at their poor judgment (Ajax is struggling without a proper leftback now that the Brazilian Maxwell has gone to Inter Milan although I must admit that Urby Emanuelson of Ajax has the potential to be the next Arthur Numan). De Cler plays at AZ.
Barry Opdam has played for AZ since 1996 and is a one-club veteran. He plays tidy football, minus the tricks and the nutmegs but he did fine at the middle of the park.
Denny Landzaat started off at Ajax before he was forced to join no-hopers MVV Maastricht, and later Willem II Tillburg and in 2003, joined AZ Alkmaar. He earned his first Dutch cap in 2001 (way before van Basten).
So that’s how it happened. Remember the Holland World Cup 1998 squad which had a long list of PSV names in the roster:- Jaap Stam, Arthur Numan, Wim Jonk, Boudewijn Zenden, Andre Ooijer, Philip Cocu .
I imagine PSV have had an impressive stable of playing staff back then to facilitate Guus Hiddink’s choice and although these players are in a totally different league compared to the current AZ crop, AZ  had more home-grown talent over the 2003 threshold. I can only speculate that van Basten had chosen form and to a certain extent, talent over national team experience.
The reason is not far to seek.
Patrick Kluivert was one of the tipped would-be stars of World Cup 1998 but now van Basten had snorted at the suggestion of the Valencia forward being included in his squad even when fit. Hey, even the main soccer pages like Soccernet hardly made mention of Kluivert these days and of his deserved omission from the Oranje. 
Clarence Seedorf, long since been out of the reckoning of a place. Should you have the time, watch the highlights of the recent AC Milan-Barcelona Champions League 1st leg semifinals and watch this inconsistent slob play. How the mighty have fallen…
In the same measure, the bondscoach has plucked Hedwiges Maduro from the Ajax reserves and made him a Holland international. FYI, Maduro has played only 12 games for Ajax and mostly play his football for the reserves. It’s like taking a commoner from the streets and declare him the successor of the British crown and become heir incumbent. This sort of audacity is admirable but I don’t believe that gambling with an inexperienced defensive midfielder is going to work miracles for an aging Dutch midfield with Philip Cocu at the centre of attention. And the same midfielder has only chalked up 12 games for a team not even comparable to Europe’s top sides. This is food for thought.




But van Basten’s choice of virtual unknowns have paid dividends. The Dutch qualified for the World Cup 2006 in style, even beating their closest rivals Czech Rep. twice, went 12 games unbeaten and conceding 3 goals.


The group of which they qualified from does not seem threatening, though. The Czechs pose the only real threat of the entire set-up while Romania is arguably a shadow of their former glory. The other teams:- Finland, Macedonia (amazingly drew with the Dutch twice), Armenia and Andorra hardly conjure up plausible football. That must have explained the ease at which the Oranje made it this time.


Italy, however, consciously brought the Dutch down to earth when they won 3-1 at the Amsterdam ArenA. in a friendly match back in November 2004. I don’t look at Italy as a powerhouse these days, since their form has been largely inconsistent but the Oranje new boys were taught a lesson which was long since coming. Make no mistake, the Dutch back four presents the most consternation for myself as I’ve never looked at a Dutch side with such a weak and unconvincing defence before. Boulahrouz is OK at CB, but Bouma and newcomer Ron Vlaar do not have experience at the highest level to deflect tricky setpieces or manmark gifted individuals like Rooney or Saviola. I’m not even ready to look at what another newbie Kew Jaliens have to offer. He’s no Phillipe Senderos or Johann Djorou at Arsenal yet.


The midfield is one of Holland’s winning formulae. If the Dutch engine room fires up and maintains the tempo, their forwards and the backline may salvage some hope yet. Mark van Bommel is a midfield general, Philip Cocu is still 80% near his top potential and the former Ajax boys, Nigel de Jong and Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder should be able to fashion a chance.


A quick look at the Oranje frontline is going to yield interesting results. First, van Basten was a forward himself before and a legend at that. Next, is how would VB going to judge for himself the standards in order to make the grade for his ultimate strike force. We know that the misfiring Roy Makaay was off the scale at the moment, barring another major last-minute clear-out. Van Nistelrooy was benched by Fergie for a noticeable lack of drive and motivation while another new name Dirk Kuyt has so far only played in the Dutch league. I watched Ryan Babel play against AJ Auxerre in a UEFA Cup match two seasons ago and I tip him to be another major striker. He’s solid. Arjen Robben has commendable speed up the flanks while Robin van Persie has rather enough experience to take his game to another level. I’m not going to comment on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink or Martijn Meerdink as I perceive these 2 as the weakest link in the forwards section. You know, Klaas Huntelaar might just make the trip there. At least he can dribble the ball well.


I’ll tip the Dutch to barely make past their group stage at the World Cup. Ivory Coast might yield a delicious prospect of a cracker of a game but don’t expect the Serbians to do the same. Argentina would go through as group leaders.


My predicted final 22-personnel squad for the Oranje:- 


Goalkeeper:- Edwin van der Sar, Henk Timmer, Maarten Stekelenburg


Defence:- Khalid Boulahrouz, Wilfred Bouma, Gio van Bronckhorst, Jan Kromkamp, Andre Ooijer,Barry Opdam, Ron Vlaar


Midfielders:- Philip Cocu, Nigel de Jong, Hedwiges Maduro, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Denny Landzaat


Strikers:- Ruud van Nistelrooy, Romeo Castelen, Ryan Babel, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt, Arjen Robben 

Hup Holland Hup!
Laat de leeuw niet in z’n hempie staan
Hup Holland Hup!
Trek het beestje geen pantoffels aan
Hup Holland Hup!
Laat je uit ‘t veld niet slaan
Want de leeuw op voetbalschoenen
Durft de hele wereld aan!

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