Holland will remain at home for the upcoming World Cup, dealing another body blow to their heritage just two years after missing out on Euro 2016. That was their first absence from a major tournament since 2002, and the feeling of abject disappointment swept over the nation for a second time when Sweden pipped them for the solitary playoff spot in Russia 2018 qualifying.
A golden era including greats such as Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Robin van Persie and a youthful Arjen Robben has well and truly subsided. Iconic moments like van Persie’s heroic header in 2014, part of a 5-1 crushing of then-world champions Spain, and Bergkamp’s renowned goal in 1998 (aided by the soundtrack of a wonderfully passionate Dutch commentator) have dissipated amid this alarming spell.
Holland can only reminisce about the best of their international moments as they struggle to escape from a sombre period in their proud, storied history. Perhaps the fact that trophies on the major stage have been hard to come by, even with stars in their prime, has something to do with their demise. However the rapid deterioration looks to be down to poor managerial appointments, a stagnant player production line and sincere lack of competition experience for their upcoming generation.
2014 to present day – The decline
Little did Andres Iniesta know that his last-gasp finish in the 2010 World Cup final would have ramifications of such epic proportions.
His strike, clinching maiden World Cup glory for Spain over the Dutch, effectively closed the curtain on the Netherlands’ most impressive era, something from which they have yet to recover.
The Netherlands made a scorching start to the 2014 finals including the famous 5-1 embarrassment of Spain that served as brutal revenge. It dwindled, though, and Arjen Robben’s alleged simulation versus Mexico helped Holland into the last eight, somewhat undeservedly.
A toiling performance against Costa Rica in the quarter finals followed, and the lottery of penalties ensured Holland’s journey continued.
The adventure came to an end when Argentina ousted the Dutch on spot kicks. Van Persie and co. bowed out of major tournament football and have remained so to this day.
The Netherlands’ ‘Total Football’ times, followed by some further excellent displays are now mere memories, and falling short at the crucial stage on too many occasions has left them without the horsepower to make their anticipated return to international prominence.
From bad to worst
Failing to reach the 2016 European Championships was a shock of similar magnitude to Italy’s eye-opening playoff defeat to Sweden in the recent World Cup qualifiers. However when the Dutch finished third in their World Cup qualifying group, it came with a sense of predictability. There hasn’t been that majestic revamp the nation would have hoped for, and the future doesn’t look overly optimistic either.
A distinctive backbone featuring Tim Krul, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie has evaporated and hardly been replaced.
Though Virgil van Dijk, Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay can be underlined as potential diamonds in the rough, those around them look mediocre at best.
Quincy Promes of Spartak Moscow and former Liverpool man Ryan Babel have barely set the world alight for the Oranje. And midfield options in Marten de Roon, Tonny Vilhena, and Donny van den Beek offer little solace for fans used to watching the likes of Robben sear across the playing surface.
Eight of ten record scorers for Holland retired long ago, and all of their current five first choice strikers have racked up a meagre 22 goals between them so far – less than half the tally of all-time highest scorer van Persie (50). Also at the summit of the Dutch scoring charts is Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, whose international career is reaching its culmination.
On top of a lack of quality on the pitch, the Netherlands’ issues on the touchline have certainly contributed to their stagnation. Guus Hiddink left after Holland’s dire Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, and successor Danny Blind went on to repeat the disappointment in the World Cup. Both bosses failed to re-establish any sort of class or gratification and the star of a once-household name in international football is fading.
Future in Koeman’s hands
Ex-Southampton and Everton manager Ronald Koeman formerly impressed for the Dutch national side as a player. He is now in a job for the first time since his dreadful start to the season with the Toffees, and gets his competitive tenure with the Oranje started in September.
Judging the Dutchman by his opening two friendly matches would be harsh to say the least – a narrow defeat to England followed by a surprisingly dominant victory over European champions Portugal provide encouragement but the real test comes after the World Cup is over. Euro 2020 qualifying and perhaps avoiding Nations League relegation in a fiery group including France and Germany will allow for a better examination of Koeman’s credentials.
Holland need to rebuild, and surely the punishment of watching the World Cup from home this summer – a feeling Italy, Chile and USA resonate with – is enough to spur some sort of a revival.