So the Netherlands did scrape a 1-0 win over a virtually revamped Serbia-Montenegro side which did not put away its chances and allowed the Dutch to breach their proud World Cup qualifiying record of having conceded just one goal in the qualifiers.
The Dutch did have the better possession but the Serbians have the better chances to score in a rather boring and uneventful match. Or was it the slippery pitch which broke down most attacks when on a level playing field, the outcome would have been a whole lot more different.
Holland’s style of play is easy to predict. Building up play from the back and working it forward to either winger who will then cross to the centre for Philip Cocu or to Ruud van Nistelrooy to score. Far too simple. When the Dutch tried to attack down the middle, they found out that they lack a ballwinner in the D-area and conceded possession far too cheaply. And where was van Nistelrooy? His mind may have been distracted by his eagerness to prove his worth to Alex Ferguson but he did look lost for large patches of the match. Dirk Kuyt who replaced him did not fare that much better but at least he tried. For the Serbs, the entry of Ognjen Koroman who replaced Djordjevic made the Dutch sweat for victory. That’s the kinda player Holland needs! Another attacking winger who knows just what to do. Robin van Persie on the right wing did give an invaluable contribution to Arjen Robben to score but otherwise, he had little to do and offer at the Zentralstadion pitch.
Oddly, the Dutch play 4-3-3 like PSV Eindhoven and the results were pretty similar. PSV were never known to score a torrent of goals in any given match in the Eredivisie nor the Champions League but have a cohesive unit under Guus Hiddink which defend rather well and attack with singular purpose through the wingers. That’s why Jan-Vennegoor of Hesselink found new life at PSV having been stored in the freezer for an indefinite period. And he’s very slow for a striker, and is known only to score with a header and not respected as a good finisher with the feet. Sounds eerily familiar to the current Dutch team. van Nistelrooy is a terrapin in the box and can hardly be better than those centre-backs out to mark him whereas Dirk Kuyt’s speed is probably average. The difference with PSV is that the Dutch have the luxury of pooling all the best players in the land and PSV has to resort to a lower budget to play its brand of football. Both teams fare pretty well though, sans the entertainment factor. Hell, I’ll still support PSV, now that Ronald Koeman (the Cowman) is here.
The logic behind this explanation is that exciting football do win fans but may not win the game (tournament). Arsene Wenger of Arsenal did try his hand at a much-hated 4-5-1 formation which sneers at the old Arsenal 4-4-2 brand of attacking football and came away with unexpected results in the Champions League of 2005/2006. Before the World Cup, and during the qualifiers however, van Basten’s team had scored in almost every match and did not lose a single match. Exciting football was never in the agenda. The Holland of old was already replaced by the new brand of ‘effective football’. Go in, sneak a goal and get the results. No need to play smart stylish football but rather the end result is the true measure of success. Can’t agree enough. The Dutch may play dour and boring matches, but posterity who looked at the history would only smile at the winner and forget those who entertain well. I CAN take a little variety.
Edwin van der Sar- 6/10.
Had incredibly little to do other than the Ognjen Koroman shot which stung his palms and the Zigic near-miss. Had a decent aerial challenge throughout but that is all.
Johnny Heitinga- 4/10.
Awfully poor for a rightback. Cannot contain a fleet-footed Mateja Kezman for much of the time and was the weakest link in defence after Joris Mathijsen. If the Dutch were to lose a game, it’s because of these 2 spring chickens who read the game poorly. van Basten had better take notice of this.
Joris Mathijsen- 4/10.
Joris the slow loris. Poor concentration than Frank de Boer and can never deserve to wear the no. 4 shirt once worn by the captain. And don’t even mention his name in the same breadth as Jaap Stam. He’s nowhere close. Nuff said.
Andre Oojier- 5/10.
First, congrats to Ooijer for his debut in a major tournament having been overlooked for World Cup 1998 (he sat on the bench in France), Euro 2000 and 2004. Looked okay for most of the match. Nothing great. Cleared the danger before it came to van der Sar. The better defender. He’s got enough experience.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst- 6/10.
8 years ago, he’s not a leftback. His role is chiefly those of Arjen Robben’s current slot. Did most of the attacking moves and defended pretty well. Got a yellow card from a dubious decision.
Philip Cocu- 5/10.
Looked disinterested. Hardly got the midfield up and running and his efforts at controlling the midfield were futile. Not active once in the box and his passing and crosses were inferior by his standards. Can lay blame to his recent fresh injury. Better game next time I suppose.
Wesley Sneijder- 4/10.
A case of reputation outweighing form. Passing was poor. Most of his passes were directed backwards and did not have the impetus to drive forward. His deadball tactics were awful and looked a poor man’s version of Rafael van der Vaart. The Hamburg SV man can do a better job.
Mark van Bommel- 5/10.
Barely showed an influence he used to wield at the PSV Eindhoven setup. Could be better at the next match.
Arjen Robben- 8/10.
He’d a poor early 10 minutes and despite the goal, his speed looked like it has seen better days. Otherwise, he’d shown why Holland needed him desperately and I cross my fingers that he won’t get injured before the end of July. After that it’s Chelski’s problem.
Ruud van Nistelrooy- 5/10.
Shown glimpses of brilliance but nothing more. One more match to prove himself perhaps.
Robin van Persie- 6/10.
When most of the Dutch attack centred on his opposite flank in the shape of Robben, the Arsenal man had little to do, but when he’d the chance, he did pretty well. Unlucky with the freekick but is one of the better Dutch players on the pitch.
Khalid Boulahrouz- 6/10.
Khalid the Cannibal came on late and righted most of the wrongs that Mathijsen did. Should start the next match and banish the weakest link to the hotel room.
Denny Landzaat- 6/10.
Did better than van Bommel and covered the defence well. Had a little hesitation going forward but that was never one of his fortes.
Dirk Kuyt- 6/10.
The subs did better than the men they were replacing. Kuyt is no different. Showed the initiative to attack and was not afraid to get stuck in challenges. van Basten might start him next!