x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Euro 2012: Dutch must finish or be finished

Stung by defeat to Denmark, Holland's attack needs to score to beat Germany on Wednesday and avoid possible elimination, writes Duncan Castles.

Robin van Persie, the in-form Holland forward, wasted plenty of opportunities to score against Denmark on Saturday. That cost his team the game, which Denmark won 1-0. Lars Baron / Getty Images
Robin van Persie, the in-form Holland forward, wasted plenty of opportunities to score against Denmark on Saturday. That cost his team the game, which Denmark won 1-0. Lars Baron / Getty Images

Robin van Persie up top, Wesley Sneijder drifting behind him. Arjen Robben cutting in from the right wing, Ibrahim Affelay starting on the left. England's footballer of the year, the creative force of Inter Milan's 2010 treble. A pair of Johan Cruijff Prijs-winning wide men currently employed by Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

Should that not prove sufficient, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart awaiting on the bench as back-ups.

In principle, it is an unstoppable attack, one that has encouraged as intelligent an analyst of the game as David Moyes to declare Holland the favourites to win the tournament. In practice, it has been stopped a little too often.

Falter again this evening against a Germany side that comprehensively outplayed them in a November friendly and the Dutch can forget about becoming European champions. The Oranje will be the first casualties of Ukraine's "group of death".

The 1-0 loss to Denmark on Saturday was a classic case of flair failing versus efficiency. The Dutch opened exhilaratingly, creating chance after chance without converting any.

Their studiously organised opponents scored with their first opportunity then looked increasingly comfortable as the minutes passed away.

For John Heitinga it was "a miracle that Denmark beat us".

He added: "They created half a chance, and scored. I think we couldn't count our chances on two hands, but we didn't score." The defender had not examined Uefa's official statistics. Every one of Denmark's eight shots hit the target. Only eight of Holland's 28 did. It may not have looked or felt that way, but the opposing goalkeepers were tested equally.

Some seasoned observers of the Dutch game were not so surprised at the outcome. They had opened against the Danes at the 2010 World Cup and been fortunate to come away with a 2-0 victory. En route to Poland-Ukraine, the current team had problems in defence where Maarten Stekelenburg had been nursing a shoulder injury and the left-back became the talented but inexperienced 18-year-old Jetro Willems.

Robben was struggling to cope with the trauma of missing an extra-time penalty in the Champions League final, allowing his former club to take the trophy at Bayern's home. And there was a general misgiving that Holland's glamorous attackers often did not want to bother themselves with recovering possession when it was lost.

As for Van Persie, a hurrier and waster of chances in Kharkiv, the striker's stellar form of 2011 had tailed off in 2012. Since claiming a hat-trick in a 7-1 evisceration of Blackburn on February 4, Arsenal's captain has scored 12 in 22 appearances. Fine numbers, yet nowhere near as impressive as his 35 Premier League finishes the previous calendar year.

In the background are Van Persie's efforts to maximise the value of his next contract. His declaration at the beginning of last season that he did not wish to be distracted from his football by negotiating a renewal was a clever, but disingenuous, piece of public relations.

Arsenal know their offer of £130,000 (Dh741,000) a week and a large signing-on fee pales by comparison to the packages on offer at, say, Manchester City and Juventus.

"He is vital to us and has been an extremely good captain but if somebody comes along and offers Robin £250,000 a week then I am afraid we cannot compete with that," said Peter Hill-Wood, their chairman. "With players, you never know what they are going to do."

What the Dutch need him to do is focus on winning. Tonight's match is one negotiation that cannot be postponed or revised.

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