Just when the initial Group Stage of the Euro 2008 was drawn, not many would expect Netherlands to qualify from the group that includes the current World Champion, Italy and the ex World Champion and European Champions, France. With Euro 1988, being their last major tournament won, they were rated as one the most underachieved European team, along with Spain and England; flourished with talents that promised so much but delivers little.
But Friday 13th of June, we witnessed one of the most scintillating games of football, a reminiscent of the “Total Football” led by the current coach and the then top goal scorer in Euro 88, Marco Van Basten. Not even the first major upset of the tournament ( Croatia defeat of Germany) can wipe off the shine in the entertaining counter-attacking football displayed by the Flying Dutchman. Being the key player in the 1988 golden era, Van Basten can’t help by lavish praise on his current crop of wizards that mesmerize the crowds with their counter-attacking. Romania, too, deserves praise for shutting out the heavyweights, France and Italy, to a draw. But the worst scenario might seen World Cup finalists Italy and France facing a premature exit, with Romania and Netherlands as the Survivors of the Group of Death.
Netherlands 4 – France 1
The 3-0 and 4-1 trashing of the 2 World Cup finalists, well known for their disciplined and water-proof defense, displayed the attacking prowess of the frontline in the current squad of Netherlands. The defeat of France saw the reunion of van Persie and our King Henry in an unfamiliar ground. In the 70th minute, Henry scored to make it 2-1 to inject fresh hopes to their faltering European campaign. Hardly a minute gone, Robben hit the final nail on their coffin by putting them 3-1 up with a magnificent strike. Wesley Sneijder put the icing on the cake by scoring through a thunderous strike to make it 4-1.
4-1 is indeed a score line that flattered the Dutch, as the French held possession and making numerous chances for most of the period, but too often fail to capitalize on their chances and eventually fallen to the superior countering attack and clinical finish of the Dutch. Van Basten has highlighted the key introduction of van Persie and Robben in the second half for their marvelous win over the ex World Champion.
The 59th min strike by van Persie, displayed the striker instinct of a lethal forward. Assisted by his fellow substitute, Robben shown great technique and vision to spot van Persie rushing in from the right wing unmarked. Van Basten has been extra cautious with the recovery of van Persie, to ensure that he returns to full fitness and not suffer a relapse. His performance might have won him to right to start the last match with Romania to reclaim his match fitness.
If van Persie can remains fit for the whole season, Arsenal really doesn’t need much strengthening in their attacking department. But what impresses me most is the influence of Robben in the build up to the famous victory. His short-stint stay in Chelsea has not live up to the expectation but upon his transfer to Real, he vowed to resurrect his career with his late performance that propelled Real to the La Liga crown. Robben reminds me of our great Overmars, blessed not just with pace but a lethal left foot; his audacious strike in the 72nd minute was a display of his precocious talent. Sneijder is equally impressive, scoring from long range in the last minute. If Arsene is able to secure any one of them, it might well be a resurrection of the pair of Flying Dutchman, succeeding the partnership of Bergkamp and Overmars.
The Legacy of the Golden Era
The “Total Football” of the Netherlands at the international stage is the next closest duplicate of Arsene’s “Beautiful Football” at the club level. The sight of Henry falling on his knees after Robben scored to make it 3-1, indicates the demise of the golden era. 2 major tournaments won in the space of 2 years (1998 World Cup & Euro 2002) is a passing dream; Henry, Thuram, Makelele and Sagnol are the remaining players from the golden era, blessed with creative and fluid attacking football that centered around the great Zidane. Yet even his potential successor and our transfer prospect Nasri can only warm the bench.
To be frank, France deserves something more from the match. The over reliance of Ribery (by far their only attacking threat) and Henry makes the French attack rather predictable and toothless. Henry’s strike in the 70th minutes marks the prospect of European Greatest comeback, but it suggest otherwise when their faltering European are underlined when Henry misses the simplest chance to equalize by looping over when he is clean through on goal.
The 98 World Cup saw Bergkamp-led Netherlands handed the baton over to the emerging France that includes our great Henry. After a decade, in last night’s match, I saw the legacy of the golden era, when Henry submitted to the superiority of the Dutch. The current French team needs major restructuring, just like the Dutch has recently completed their transition. Out went the likes of Seedorf, Stam, Davids, Kluivert, in come the vibrant and robust energy of the new generation that includes, our very own van Persie, Sneijder, Robben, van Der Vaart, led by the veterans in van Nistelrooy, van der Saar and their coach Marco Van Basten.
Raymond Domench is too negative in the built up; yet the current squad is boasted with the young attacking talents of Nasri, Benzema and Diarra. Last night, we might have seen the last of Henry, Makelele, Thuram and Sagnol in the international stage. France do need some major restructuring, especially in their aging midfield and defense. The failure to field Diarra or even Flamini might be a lost cause, but the lack of confidence in the youth, unlike the Dutch, and the negative approach might led to another possible disappointing campaign.
Come to think of it, should our ever-dependent Clichy and Sagna played as fullbacks last night, France might actually be able to nullify the attacking prowess of the Flying Dutchman. However, along with Spain (Joaquin, Silva) and Portugal (Ronaldo), Netherlands are blessed with extremely talented wingers in Robben and Sneijder, who are able to guide Netherlands all the way to land the most prestigious and yet belated European crown. At centre back, Gallas must really concentrate more and I will be watching him very closely this evening.
SURVIVAL OR POINTLESS EXERCISE?
The Netherlands may rest some of the ir key players tonight. They are perfectly allowed to choose which ever players they want from the squad of 23. A Romanian victory, whilst being received as more a conspiracy that coincidence could mean the game being played out by France and Italy becomes a pointless exercise. What would be the reaction of UEFA? Donadoni the Italian Coach would lose his job, and Nasri could fly to England to sign with the Arsenal perhaps…
Will the 4-2-3-1 attacking formation of Netherlands bring out the very best in our current Arsenal squad? With Denilson or Gilberto as the shielding midfielders, and 3 attacking midfielders from our creative quarter that includes Vela, Walcott, Van Persie, Fabregas (fit again Eduardo, Rosicky or Ramsey), to support our lone striker in Adebayor, isn’t that the exact built up to a mesmerizing attacking force?
Perhaps, Arsenal really doesn’t need many signings after all.