The Netherlands Elftal was only successful in a major tournament – the European Championships of 1988.
My memory of them winning that tournament that year was fuzzy at best but I won’t lie to you – I was only 7 years old at that time and was probably more interested in ‘Transformers’ and ‘LEGO’ toys at that time. Of course, I’ve heard of Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard that time but paid them scant heed for the reasons as described.
Times haven’t been kind on the Oranje since then. They’ve redeemed some lost pride in their futile Euro 1996 with a strong performance in World Cup 1998 in France. They’ve also failed to qualify for the World Cup 2002 in the Far East despite having some of the best players reaching their peak. Finally, they’ve come mightily close to winning the World Cup 2010 in South Africa but lost to a more deserving team in the final, marked with some actions deemed uncharacteristically Dutch like Nigel de Jong kicking Xabi Alonso in the chest and generally played the more heavy-handed style of football.
But since the European Championships is just around the corner, it’d represent the Oranje’s best chance to win something of note. There’s no clear-cut winner this time round although hot favourites Spain would fancy their chances of emulating France’s success in the World Cup 98 and Euro 2000 tournaments. The teams’ rosters have not been finalized yet and the football fever has not kicked in yet. There’s time, though to take a short trip down memory lane and see how the Oranje have fared in European Championships this century, beginning with the Euro 2000 hosted by the Netherlands and its neighbour, Belgium –
EURO 2000 (Holland / Belgium)
Ah, Euro 2000. I was in Form 6 hell at that time, so football was a reasonable outlet for frustration during a very unproductive time. One of my classmates stupidly bought the Oranje kit (which I think was one of the worst ever designed as compared with the sublime World Cup 98 Nike kit) and proclaimed his love for Holland. New Oranje fans are born every generation – that’s all I can say.
Here’s the 2000 squad list –
1. Edwin van der Sar (goalkeeper)
2. Michael Reiziger (rightback)
3. Jaap Stam (centreback)
4. Frank de Boer (centreback)
5. Boudewijn Zenden (left midfielder)
6. Clarence Seedord (midfielder)
7. Phillip Cocu (midfielder)
8. Edgar Davids (midfielder)
9. Patrick Kluivert (striker)
10. Dennis Bergkamp (supporting striker)
11. Marc Overmars (left winger)
12. Giovanni van Bronckhorst (leftback / left midfielder)
13. Bert Konterman (centreback)
14. Peter van Vossen (forward)
15. Paul Bosvelt (midfielder)
16. Ronald de Boer (right midfielder)
17. Pierre van Hooijdonk (forward)
18. Ed de Goey (goalkeeper)
19. Arthur Numan (leftback)
20. Aron Winter (midfielder)
21. Roy Makaay (forward)
22. Sander Westerveld (goalkeeper)
(take note that of all the happy, smiling faces above, Winston Bogarde (3rd row far right), Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (3rd row far left) and Dries Boussatta (3rd row 2nd from left) was not included in the final squad.
Holland vs. Czech Republic (11 June 2000)
As joint hosts, the Dutch obviously held the favourites tag. Maradona was quoted as saying that he named the Oranje and France as the sides likely to win the tournament and for good reason – the Dutch would be playing all of their matches at home without travelling across the border for any game whatsoever. There’s no point overemphasizing the benefits of home fixtures, but the Nederlands Elftal have done really well in their home turf and could count on their faithful fans for support.
In addition, the Dutch had just won over legions of fans with its attractive brand of football, culminating in fourth place during the France World Cup campaign two years before. Guus Hiddink was no longer with the Oranje but Frank Rijkaard came in with a star player brand to his credit.
France was just fresh off their home success in World Cup 98 and have a strong stable of players who have, no doubt, benefitted from another two more years of competitive experience.
There are many articles written about the tournament itself, so I’m not going to regurgitate whatever that could be gleaned online easily.
From the Dutch perspective, they started their campaign very cautiously although they won each and every game in their Group D with Czech Republic, France and Denmark. My favourite player in the Oranje setup, Arthur Numan was conspicuously absent in the first two matches and only featured in the final match against France which was academic at that point of time. At that time, Giovanni van Bronckhorst took Numan’s incumbent position at leftback and I thought that Gio wasn’t that great in defense. Overall, there’s very little to write home about the Dutch team’s group matches. In discussion with fellow football mates, the very idea that Frank Rijkaard was the worst Oranje manager ever in modern history was even bandied around – but in hindsight it was more out of caution of slipping up at home than anything else.
Then, in the knockout stage, the Oranje came alive and beat the stuffing out of a talented Yugoslavia side 6-1 on 25 June 2000 in De Kuip, Rotterdam.
One man ruled the match – Patrick Kluivert who scored a hattrick on that day. Dennis Bergkamp, who had a barren run throughout the tournament weighed in assists for both Kluivert and Marc Overmars. Two goals came from the ex-Arsenal winger and another was an own goal by Dejan Govedarica. I recalled enjoying the match immensely, especially that the Oranje was pressurizing the Yugoslavs beyond breaking point. Arthur Numan played really well in that match as well and carried out his overlapping fullback role to perfection. He would not play in a major tournament ever again after this match, though, as he was injured for the semi-final against Italy and the Oranje famously failed to qualify for World Cup 2002. Dennis Bergkamp would have one more tournament game to go before deciding to call time on his career for the Dutch national team.
That memorable match provided ample entertainment for football fans around the world and Dutch fans would be hoping for the momentum to carry them through to the final. But that was not to be.
The entire nation dreamt of glory on home soil which would be played out on 29 June 2012 at the modern Amsterdam ArenA. I wasn’t really sure how much the Dutch valued the Euro victory (as compared to the World Cup) but that loss was one of the most grueling and at the same time, bizarre. And it has nothing to do with the referee, Markus Merk being German and whose own country who shared a fierce football rivalry with the Dutch.
Italy had to play for over ninety minutes with only ten men after Gianluca Zambrotta received his marching orders after picking up two yellow cards in the 34th minute of the match. To rub salt in the wound, the Oranje had two penalties on either side of regulation time to put one foot into the final but contrived to miss them both – Frank de Boer hitting to the left of Francesco Toldo who punched it out of harm’s way. Patrick Kluivert also saw his goalscoring touch deserting him with a tame penalty hitting the post in the 67th minute. I even saw Pele (who was in the Amsterdam ArenA) gesturing (to his companions watching the match) with his middle finger and forefinger outstretched to signify two penalty misses and his utter disbelief. Relax – he’s not alone as all Oranje fans around the world could testify.
As the game wore on, Holland started to make rather unattractive substitions – aging veteran Peter van Vossen replaced a visibly tired Boudewijn Zenden in the 77th minute; Dennis Bergkamp played for the last time in the orange jersey after being replaced by Clarence Seedorf and Aron Winter added to his impressive tally of appearances for the Oranje Elftal by replacing Phillip Cocu in extra time. By then, a neutral would get the impression that the odds looked better for Italy than the Netherlands – the Azzurri holding firm against wave after wave of Dutch pressure who could find no answer to their defensive stance.
In extra time – which carried with it the fatal blow of the ‘golden goal rule’- both sides played out both halves rather warily but both found enough resources to try to win the match – particularly from Marco Delvecchio who forced a save from van der Sar on the 99th minute.
Both sides now re-enter the Amsterdam ArenA after extra time for the decisive penalty shootout. If you recalled, the Dutch lost their most recent semifinal to Brazil in World Cup 98 with a rather dismal penalty show.
Italy took the penalties first with Luigi di Biagio who erased his penalty trauma in France with a strong effort past Van der Sar. Italians seemed to have this streak – Roberto Baggio scored against Chile and somewhat banished his ghosts of Pasadena in World Cup 1994 final against Brazil.
The stage was set again for Frank de Boer to set things right. Rather amazingly, the captain shot straight at Toldo.
Gianluca Pessotto then piled more pressure on the Dutch by converting his chance.
Jaap Stam stepped up to make amends on behalf of his captain and blazed the ball well over bar. Two central defenders taking the first two penalties? What kind of bad joke is this?
Francesco Totti then netted his chance to consign the Dutch to further despair.
Patrick Kluivert then hit the only ‘goal’ of the match for Holland.
Offering a glimmer of hope for the Oranje, Paolo Maldini, who was Italy’s fourth penalty taker shot straight at Edwin van der Sar who hadn’t had much luck so far keeping opposition penalties away during major tournaments.
Up stepped Paul Bosvelt to shoulder the entire burden of the country’s expectations. See what a picture of ‘confidence’ he had at that time –
Of course he missed!
Paul never looked comfortable as a penalty taker and took his chance too fast. And what a pity – I’d read good things about this Feyenoord man (much later, Manchester City) and it was quite unfair to single him out for criticism, especially with his captain missing two vital penalties earlier.
So, finally, it was over. Both the hosts of this tournament are out and have nothing to play for. The morning after, some friends who supported Holland asked – ‘isn’t there a 3rd place finish? Some consolation prize at least?’. I guess the tournament’s small structure precludes any opportunity for third place, with no reasonable amount of prestige coming out of having it.
As is the norm, the tournament holds no further interest for me and I didn’t even watch the final match played between France and Italy. The Dutch swiftly appointed Louis van Gaal to replace Rijkaard who stepped down after the defeat. It was to be another disappointing error made by the KNVB. The horror of penalty kicks is now ingrained in Dutch psyche….or is it? Four years later, the truth would be revealed. Until then, Holland would rebuild – with exciting new talents like Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Ruud van Nistelrooy coming into the fore.