The sight of Holland playing unspectacular football, as they have for their first two World Cup games, is perhaps as strange as seeing snow fall on the Sahara desert. Despite qualifying for the last 16 with two wins and without conceding a single goal, there have been few reasons for the Dutch to cheer the quality of football they have seen.
Sections of Holland’s press are loading their guns, ready to fire in anger over this less exuberant approach, but coach Bert van Marwijk is spending little time worrying about these grumbles. “Two years ago I said Holland had to learn how to win ugly games”, said van Marwijk. “Now I could say we’ve taken a step forward. I’m more confident about our strength now.”
From total football to boring football, the Orange’s new style of play is seemingly trying to shed a reputation which has seen them labelled as a “pretty” side, but one which has not, in recent times, threatened to win a major tournament. Even when Holland were undisputedly the best team on show, as in the 1974 World Cup, they failed to take top honours.
Against Denmark and Japan, in their opening two games of this World Cup, Holland looked solid and the clean sheets garnered were welcome. Up front, however, none of their attacking weapons impressed and the Dutch are becoming increasingly vocal about the fact that this side misses the fluid passing moves which have always been their trademark.
Van Marwijk’s 4-2-3-1 system needs wingers on the flanks, but while Arjen Robben is still recovering from the hamstring injury he suffered in the pre-tournament friendly against Hungary, Eljero Elia and Ryan Babel – Robben’s natural replacements – have been confined to the bench. Elia and Babel have had to watch ‘fish out of water’ Rafael van der Vaart on the left and an exhausted Dirk Kuyt on the right, grab their spots. Central striker Robin van Persie has struggled to catch fire too.
Another problem the coach must face is the lack of ideas within the side. Creative midfielder Wesley Sneijder has shown only glimpses of his extraordinary footballing brain, in part due to the ultra defensive approach taken by both Denmark and Japan, who deployed three men in the centre of midfield with a 4-5-1 system.
“There are countries here with nothing to lose”, bemoaned an exasperated Kuyt. “They play the matches of their lives to show off their play on the biggest stage and their main aim is a goalless draw.”
The Dutch have though, grabbed two wins from two, down to a Daniel Agger own goal and a mistake by Japanese keeper Eiji Kawashima. “At this level it is extremely difficult to win a match in ten minutes”, said Van Marwijk. “We produced performances that were perhaps not as attractive as our previous games, but we took very few risks and didn’t concede almost any goalscoring chances to our opponents. The critics? Well, it’s impossible to have everyone on your side.”
Swapping good football for pragmatism to win matches seems to be Holland’s new philosophy. Van Marwijk had made a radical, if unpopular, choice, and the coach knows he cannot afford to fail. The land of total football will not quickly forgive him if he is seen to have wasted an abundance of talent in the search for glory that never arrives.
Fonte: Inside Futbol