Netherlands are highly-fancied for the tournament with only holders Spain and bitter rivals Germany thought to have a better chance. The reasons are threefold. Firstly they are outstanding going forward and blasted the most goals of any nation, 37, past their qualifying group opponents. Secondly they reached the World Cup final two years ago where the quality of their stars was evident in shedding the tag of underachievers. Finally they are currently a bunch of happy campers with the traditional Dutch in-fighting and ego-jostling being kept to a minimum under World Cup coach Bert van Marwijk.
The Oranje and Van Marwijk in particular received heavy criticism after abandoning total football for a display of World Cup final thuggery against Spain. Since then the coach has gradually smoothed over the incident by operating with fewer midfield enforcers and looking to capitalise on the attacking riches available. This strategy in itself presents a problem as he prefers to play with only one dedicated striker, master poacher and top scorer in qualifying, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The other talents, Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart must be arranged wide of him and behind him. Van Persie’s club form suggests he could be devastating at the tournament but his attacking threat is reduced if played wide or as a second striker. He could be deployed in the hole but that means forcing Sneijder deeper.
Defensively the problems are less welcome and while the Dutch boast superstars in attack, they possess merely able internationals at the back. Ajax’s Gregory van der Wiel has claimed right back for himself but on the other flank first choice Erik Pieters will miss out with injury. The options in the middle look unconvincing and short of pace.
Key Man: Robin Van Persie
The 2011-12 season was the one in which Robin Van Persie finally made the transition from just being very good, to totally world class. The Arsenal hitman, previously a bit stop-start due to spending too much time on the treatment table, hit 50 goals in an injury free campaign. The forward scores special goals too. Technically he is superb and while blistering volleys are his forte he also takes all the set pieces for the Gunners. At Arsenal Van Persie operates as the main striker but his link up play is excellent and if he can adapt to either a deeper role behind Huntelaar or a wider berth, then his abilities could be crucial to any Dutch success.
Watch Out For: Jetro Willems
With first choice left-back Erik Pieters injured, who better to step in than the man who has appeared an able deputy for him at PSV Eindhoven this season. The trouble though is that Jetro Willems is only 18-years-old and completely untested at full international level. Van Marwijk however is obviously an admirer of the teenager, who now has two pre-tournament friendlies to convince his manager he is worthy of a starting role in the must-win opener against Denmark.
1000 Goals Predicts:
It may well be a case of being good but not quite good enough for the Dutch. In order to reach the final they will not only need to negotiate the group of death but also defeat Germany at least once, either in the group itself or the semi-final and they don’t quite have it in them. We are guaranteed to see goals from Netherlands at the tournament but a suspect defence will be exploited by the Germans. Last four.