Having not missed out on qualification for the Euros since 1984, the Dutch immediately fancied their chances of making it to Euro 2012 after being drawn in Group E alongside Sweden, Hungary, Finland, Moldova and San Marino.
Netherlands started their qualification campaign with an away game against San Marino, and unsurprisingly recorded a comfortable victory over the minnows. A Klaas-Jan Huntelaar hat-trick and goals from Dirk Kuyt and Ruud van Nistelrooy resulted in a 5-0 win for Oranje.
Things would be less smooth in the following game, though, as Oranje only just managed to bag the full points against Finland. An early Huntelaar double got Holland off to a flier, but Mikael Forssell made it 2-1 shortly after, and the away side came close to leveling the scoring on a number of occasions.
The World Cup finalists then recorded another hard-fought win over Moldova as Huntelaar’s 37th-minute goal proved to be decisive.
However, Holland would then turn on the style in the home match against their biggest rivals for a ticket for the finals – Sweden. Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay helped Bert van Marwijk’s men to a 2-0 lead at half-time, before the duo again found the net after the interval to make it 4-0. Andreas Granqvist pegged one back in the closing stages of the game, but it was too little, too late for the Scandinavians.
Oranje treated their fans to yet another superb showing in March 2011 when they thrashed Hungary 4-0 in Budapest. Rafael van der Vaart and Afellay found the net before half-time, with Kuyt and Robin van Persie adding their names to the score-sheet after the interval.
The Dutch hosted Hungary four days later in a match that showed their defensive vulnerability. Van Persie opened the scoring for Holland in the first half, but two quick goals from Gergely Rudolf and Zoltan Gera provided the guests the advantage. Wesley Sneijder and Van Nistelrooy then restored Oranje’s lead, but again Gera made it 3-3 shortly after. Netherlands’ quality eventually shone through, though, as Kuyt netted a double to help the home side to a 5-3 win.
Goals from Van Persie (4), Sneijder (2), John Heitinga, Kuyt, Huntelaar (2) and Georginio Wijnaldum then helped the Euro 1988 winners to an 11-0 record win over San Marino, before they booked their place for Euro 2012 with a 2-0 away victory over Finland courtesy of goals from Kevin Strootman and Luuk de Jong.
Oranje ended their campaign with a narrow 1-0 win over Moldova courtesy of the unstoppable Huntelaar, before losing their unbeaten status against Sweden. Strikes from Huntelaar and Kuyt were not enough as the Swedes cruised to a 3-2 victory.
Netherlands consequently ended first in Group E with 27 points from 10 games, three points ahead of Sweden.