Euro 2012 Group of Death kills the Netherlands

By Sipho Hlongwane 18 June 2012

There is always one of them in an international football tournament. In the 2012 edition of the Euro tournament, it was Group B. Unbelievably, and against every expectation, it is the inventors of the modern football Netherlands who are taking the first plane home. Who said football is ever boring? By SIPHO HLONGWANE

The Dutch football maestro Rinus Michels invented totaalvoetbal, or total football. It is the idea that any outfield player can replace any other player’s position on the field. Michels first got Ajax Amsterdam to play it between 1969 and 1973. Then the Dutch national team adopted it, to devastating effect. 

Theoretically, the only fixed position is that of the goalkeeper. It makes for scintillating football – the best team at it currently is FC Barcelona (with Arsenal FC in England also utilising it very well). It is not the Dutch who are the best at the most perfect form of football today. One only needs to examine the woeful display of the Netherlands at the 2012 edition of the Euro tournament to be convinced of that.

Four teams squared up against each other in Group B of the tournament: Portugal, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Based on the talent the teams could summon, and their record in recent tournaments, the favourites in the group were Germany and the Netherlands. And yet, the Portuguese narrowly lost out to Greece in the 2004 Euro finals, and Denmark has never been sniffed at on the European stage. This was truly the group of death. And how it lived up to its name.

Unbelievably, the Dutch lost their first match against Denmark by a single goal to none. This was after the Danish keeper fended off a total of 28 shots from the Dutch attack led by Robin van Persie (the sharpest marksman in the British league), Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Ibrahim Afellay. Four days later, Mario Gomez did a little surprising of his own by producing two quality strikes against the Netherlands to sink them to their second successive defeat, and the prospect of an early trip home from Eastern Europe.

On the other side of the group, the most expensive footballer in the world, Christiano Ronaldo, was facing questions of his own. After Portugal suffered a defeat against Germany in the first round, it was up to the captain Ronaldo to find a way back. Though he played a big part in the second round victory over Denmark, it was in the match against the Netherlands that he finally decided to come into his own class (the one he shares with nobody else on earth, aside from his arch rival Lionel Messi). 

The collision course was set – Ronaldo would have to fire on all cylinders to see his side through to the quarter-finals, and the Dutch would have to do the same by beating the Portuguese by a handsome score while hoping that the Danes didn’t produce the biggest upset since the Battle of Britain by beating the Germans. As it transpired, it was Ronaldo who decided to show up on the day. He scored twice. 

“Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Portugal’s passage into the quarter-finals with two goals that ended dismal Holland’s participation at Euro 2012. Ronaldo was irresistible throughout as he led his side to a last-eight appointment with the Czech Republic in Warsaw on Thursday,” the UK Mirror said.

“The 27-year-old responded to criticism of his form with a mesmerising display topped by a goal in each half to ensure Portugal finished the ‘group of death’ as runners-up behind Germany. Apart from a fine early strike from Rafael van der Vaart, Holland were poor, ensuring a team considered among the pre-tournament favourites finished bottom of Group B without a point to their name.”

Indeed, it is the worst Dutch performance in any major tournament since the game of football was invented. Seriously. They have never finished with no points whatsoever in the group stages. And to think they finished second in the World Cup two years ago…

Still, hurrah! The Germans are through! [Damn. Did I betray my allegiances there? – SH] They face the comical Greeks in the quarter-finals (only because the Russians decided to have a spectacular meltdown after turning in the finest result of the first round). They were beaten by Spain in the last competition. 

It looks very likely that an opportunity for revenge will present itself. And the forward duo of Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez are on fire right now, not to mention the vital supporting cast of Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Thomas Müller and Bastian Schweinsteiger.  Ever since the eccentric Joachim Löw became the manager of the German national side, their style has come to replicate that of Michels, with the midfielders moving in a fluid fashion around Podolski and Gomez while maintaining the legendary Teutonic backline. 

It’s a terrible cliché, but football will be the ultimate winner of these games. If it is Spain, it will prove that the tiki-taka interpretation of total football is the supreme one. 

If it is Germany, it will be the more staid and physical form of attacking football (not all attacking football is total football, after all) that reigns supreme. One thing is very clear, though. The inventors of totaalvoetbal are no longer its masters. DM

Read more:

  • Holland are sent home by Portugal and Christiano Ronaldo in Guardian Football
  • Lars Bender takes Germany through and dumps out Denmark in Guardian Football


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