A solid start to the match followed by defensive breakdowns and a complete inability to find an equalizer. Wash, rinse, repeat. In the past week, Holland reminded all football fans that teams often cannot afford to play one bad game during any European Championship, and a side certainly can't survive three poor games when placed in a "group of death." The Netherlands saw their Euro 2012 come to an end on Sunday after a third straight "blah" performance, while Portugal, also playing for their tournament lives in that contest, showed why they deserved to go through to the next round.
Portugal 2-1 Netherlands: The good
Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk finally made the lineup changes Holland fans such as myself had requested after the team's first loss of the competition. Rafael Van der Vaart needed just eleven minutes to show that he probably should have started throughout Euro 2012, burying a beautiful curling ball into the bottom-left corner of the net, a shot goalkeeper Rui Patricio had zero chance of stopping. With Holland having to win by two to even have a chance of going through to the knockout stages, Van Marwijk also chose both Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie for the Dutch starting eleven. While his decisions proved to be "too little, too late," Van Marwijk left nothing in the tunnel or on the bench on Sunday.
Portugal 2-1 Netherlands: Different day, same problems
Some fans and analysts list Cristiano Ronaldo, who struggled mightily in Portugal's first two Euro 2012 games, as the best player in the world, and Ronaldo certainly deserves plenty of credit for his two goals that put the disappointing Dutch out of the tournament. For the second time in two games, however, the Holland back line gave a world class finisher too much time and space to make his way into the penalty area. Lazy offside traps coupled with multiple players being caught ball-watching allowed Ronaldo to score two goals and also create several other opportunities that probably should have resulted in Portugal extending their lead even further. Holland's defending, thought to be the team's weak link heading into Euro 2012, actually ended up being worse than advertised over these three very forgettable games.
Portugal 2-1 Netherlands: Missing men
While Ronaldo played hero for his national side, neither Huntelaar nor Van Persie made much of an impact in Holland's must-win game. Van Persie again squandered a beautiful scoring opportunity in the second half, while Huntelaar isn't even mentioned in many post-match reports. Both Holland and Portugal required multiple goals on Sunday, and the Dutch's play-makers went M.I.A. at the worst possible time.
Portugal 2-1 Netherlands: Overall
Van Marwijk and the Holland squad will now have plenty to think about before September's 2014 World Cup qualifiers. It's easy to suggest that the Netherlands were simply overconfident, or that the team's defending cost them in their past three games. The fact is that Holland were not good enough in all parts of the field during their three Euro 2012 games, and it's why they won't play another meaningful match until after the start of the European season. These three tournament contests brought out the worst we've seen from Dutch football in many years.
There's plenty of blame to go around for that.