Expectations can weigh heavy on a team, particularly a team possessing such glaring defensive weakness as the Netherlands. What may not have been obvious before the tournament was made blatantly obvious in their first match against Denmark, thoroughly exploited in their second against Germany, and finally abused by Portugal during their final Group B fixture. There were few bright spots for the Dutch team and Euro 2012 is a tournament that they will want to quickly forget.
For a few minutes, it looked like the Netherlands would be able to rescue themselves from elimination. Arjen Robben made his trademark cut inside and rather than attempting a shot with his left, he played the ball along to Rafael Van der Vaart. Van der Vaart’s curling effort sailed into the goal around the diving Rui Patricio and suddenly the Dutch had hopes of making history.
Those hopes were soon crushed thanks to the tireless work of Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo has come under fire during this tournament for his wasteful finishing and usual petulant behavior. During this match he served as a prime example of what a captain should be. Just a couple minutes following Van der Vaart’s opener, Ronaldo soared above the Dutch defense and met Nani’s cross with a powerful header. The shot was parried by Stekelenberg, but he could not do the same for Ronaldo’s next effort a few minutes later.
Ronaldo accepted a pristine through ball from Joao Periera and easily finished. It was his first goal of the tournament, finally shaking the monkey off his back. Throughout the match he dominated Dutch right back Gregory Van der Weil and made quick work of replacement center back Ron Vlaar. Ronaldo’s assault on the Dutch front was joined by his counterpart Nani and assisted by attacking runs from full backs Joao Periera and Fabio Coentrao. Together their quick, decisive attacks torched the Netherlands and showed a real example of what Portugal is capable of.
Dutch attackers Robin Van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar were anonymous for long stretches of the match; both are capable of much better performances. The frustrated Bert Van Marwijk, had little influence over his squad during what may be his final match as the Netherlands manager. Making only a single substitution, his team failed to adjust and contain the Portuguese midfield that had continually overrun Nigel De Jong without the presence of captain Mark Van Bommel.
The Dutch disappointment reached rock bottom when Cristiano Ronaldo put the game beyond doubt. Shortly after a spectacular miss from Nani, the Manchester United winger made penance by playing a long pass to the feet of Ronaldo. The Portuguese captain stopped on a dime and allowed the Dutch defender to fly past, before slamming the finish behind Stekelenberg.
With the game out of hand, Rafael Van der Vaart had an effort strike the woodwork, but the disappointing Dutch were incapable of avoiding defeat. Ultimately, there was little the Netherlands could do to avoid defeat. There had been moments of competence during their third lackluster performance of the tournament, but they had not been enough to earn the Dutch a single point at the tournament. Perhaps the lack of squad harmony can be blamed, maybe it is the lack of a traditional Dutch formation, or the fact that none of the starting XI share the same club team. Whatever the reason, major changes are likely before the next major tournament.