Ruud Doevendans

Ruud Doevendans has been an official columnist for a Dutch club and owns one of the largest collections of soccer videos containing hundreds of World Cup matches. We at PWC are proud to have him as a columnist. He will share his views about the past, present and future of the World Cup.

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State of shock

This country is in a state of shock.

    Before you can understand, you have to realize what the state of the Dutch team was before they entered Euro 2008.

    In spite of his superb qualities as s striker two decades ago, Marco van Basten's days as the national team manager brought not much more than agony for Dutch footballfans. In his inaugural speech he promised attackminded and dominant play - unlike we had seen when his predecessor Dick Advocaat was the coach - but the outcome was that the Dutch team most of the time played a dull and slow game, sometimes even cynical. World Cup 2006, Holland-Portugal, remember?

    Controversial Van Basten found himself in a row with many players. He axed four times Champions League winner Clarence Seedorf from the squad ('a great name but not a great player'), he told the press Edgar Davids' days were over ('I also don't take Jan Wouters - 45 years old at the time, RD - in my team, do I?') and clashed with Mark van Bommel and Ruud van Nistelrooij. At the same time he tried players who were hardly capable of playing a decent role in the national championship. Marco van Basten had been away from football for about ten years, and it showed. Even quiet Edwin van der Sar, the longtime and much hailed captain of the team, asked himself: 'What is this coach doing?'

    During Marco van Basten's reign, Holland lost almost all of it's reputation as a fancy team always looking to attack and entertain the world. What was once Bright Orange, became dark grey.

    Holland made it to the World Cup under Van Basten (thrown out in the round of last 16) and also qualified for Euro 2008. So far, so good. But: in the qualifying campaign we hardly managed to beat Albania and Luxemburg (four wins, four times a one goal difference, four times the opponent had the better chances and four times Van der Sar was our best man on the pitch). On the other end we knew that we had great players up-front but they did not deliver. Let's be fair, fifeteen goals from twelve matches in a group with Albania, Luxemburg, Slovenia and Belarus is not exactly an achievement to be proud of, is it? The Van Nistelrooijs, Huntelaars, Van Persies, Robbens, Van der Vaarts, Sneijders and Kuijts of our football hardly ever lived up to the expectations.

    And then there was our defense. Ooijer, many times on the bench with Blackburn Rovers. I repeat, on the bench with Blackburn Rovers. Melchiot, of Wigan Athletic. Again, Wigan Athletic. Bouma, 13-a-dozen at Aston Villa. Or Mathijsen, the hunchback from Hamburger SV. We felt fortunate to have Van der Sar, who managed to keep the team upright time and again. But would this be enough to live the Group of Death?

All in all: we expected nothing when we travelled to Switzerland.

    Then came Italy, the world champions. And Holland outplayed them. Van der Sar was great, defense pretty solid and then this midfield: just awesome. Sneijder the new world class hero, Van der Vaart suddenly able to fight, Kuijt not only hard working but also decisive. Then came France, runners up at the World Cup just two years ago. Though they outclassed us for 2/3 of the match, 4-1! Our counterattacks were killing, Van der Sar still in his best form. Robben and Van Persie, both injured before and from there only substitutes, made the difference. Even Van Basten, who had not shown any emotion from september 2004 until this day at the Stade de Suisse, celebrated the goals as if he was back at the age of 23, beating England, Germany and the Soviets in Euro 1988. Then came Romania, we played them with our second team and still had no problems beating them 2-0. This country went nuts. We were going to win it all. No one could stop us, right? What would the final be, against Germany or maybe still Spain? Or rather Portugal, we would have a real revenge match. Yes, that would be it! 1978, finalists in the World Cup in Argentina. In 1988, winners of the European title. Ten years later, 1998: semi-finalists against Brazil. And now, another ten years later: this would be our moment.

    And then there was Russia: bang, bang, bang! Not even Edwin van der Sar, who had done so exceptionally well in the tournament, was able to keep the team on it's feet. No Sneijder (ten shots, all wide), no Van der Vaart (exhausted at half-time), no Robben (injured, what else?), no Van Persie (me, myself and I). None of them. Just Pavliuchenko, Semak and Zyryanov. And Arschavin, most of all Arschavin. No Dutch player seemed to find himself responsible for marking the Russian wizard playmaker, excellent in positional play between the Dutch midfield and defense. Where was Ooijer? Or De Jong? Mathijsen, just too busy with losing the battle with Pavliuchenko?

I must admit: I predicted 5-1 for Holland.

    It is over. Just at the time when it can not be over. We were supposed to win, weren't we? People do not know what to say. Yes, Russia were very good. Much better than we. But how can this be? Last yeat we beat them easily 4-1 in Amsterdam. The team played so well in Berne. Looked sharp, looked fresh, looked prepared to pick up every challenge. The same team looked old, out of control, physically down against Guus and his men. What went wrong?

    We just don't know. This country is in a state of shock. Today is Monday, back to work. People are removing flags and banners from their houses, the country's biggest grocer Albert Heijn will probably stop providing customers with so-called Welpies (little lions you get when you spend at least fifeteen euro, meant to show you support the national team). Fans will return home and stop partying and drinking, drinking a lot, drinking until they drop. It feels like 1974, when Holland playing superlative football were brutally downed by West Germany. Beckenbauer is now called Ignachevitsch, Breitner is named Zhirkov, Müller is Pavliuchenko. It will take some time before we recover.

    In 1988 I broke my leg in a blatant foul I committed myself while trying to do everything to avoid relegation with my team (we still lost). In 1988 I met a fantastic young woman who is still my wife today. Once in a lifetime experiences, the second one better than the first. In 1988, Holland won the European title. Will we ever win again?

I am afraid 1988 will remain unique.



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