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Will Netherlands' woes see it miss another major tournament?

Monday 27th March 2017
The Dutch national team used to be feared. These days, it is a side in disarray, one in serious danger of missing out on yet another major international tournament.

A 2-0 defeat away to Bulgaria on Saturday highlights the Netherlands' woes. L'Oranje sit fourth in its group, five points off top spot. To win the group is virtually impossible. All that remains is a push for second place. The side would then have an opportunity to earn a ticket to Russia by winning a two-legged playoff. Even finishing second will be a tough task. The Dutch must beat Sweden, Bulgaria and possibly France, something they did not do in their first encounters with each.

The entire footballing world was shocked when the Netherlands failed to qualify for Euro '16. Let's not forget this is a team that reached the final at the 2010 World Cup, then were unlucky not to win. Louis van Gaal continued Bert van Marwijk's success with a third place finish in Brazil. After failing to qualify for Euro '16, most expected a quick turnaround by the team in World Cup qualifying. Instead, results have proven l'Oranje's problems have not been resolved

What are the problems?

Looking at the squad, it is difficult to understand how they are not doing better. Creative players like Wesley Sneijder, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Davy Klaassen complement true flair players like Arjen Robben, Quincy Promes, and Memphis Depay in attack. In saying so, however, many among these players have been underperforming for their country.

At the other end, the Dutch struggle even more. Aside from Virgil van Dijk, who is currently injured, the defence is poor, lacking any real leadership. In the Bulgaria match, 17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was in the starting eleven. His insertion emphasises the defensive crisis. Young players need to be ready when they first play for their country. The Ajax man was clearly out of his depth. Unfairly thrown in at the deep end, he must have suffered a massive knock to his confidence when he came off at half time.

It can be argued the manager had been the main cause for the Netherlands' woes. Danny Blind, father to Manchester United's Daley Blind, was unsurprisingly sacked Sunday. One decision that may have cost his job was axing Netherlands' top goalscorer, Robin van Persie. This was especially ridiculous given the team's main striker is Bas Dost, a man with just one goal for his country in twelve games.
Former United boss Louis van Gaal is a possible replacement for Blind. It would be the Dutchman's third spell with his country but it may be a smart appointment. He is familiar with the team and, as mentioned, has led it to World Cup qualification in the past. Whichever manager steps in will have little time to implement his own tactics. Results are needed quickly; the Dutch cannot afford to sacrifice any more points.

Gone are the days when the Netherlands played truly attractive football, featuring legends such as Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, and Dennis Bergkamp. These next six months will show how much fight and quality the current squad actually has. It is a team that should be competing at every major tournament. The way they are playing at the moment, though, they are not worthy to head to Russia in 2018.
Robert Wiltshire
I am a Creative Writing MA graduate with a love for playing, watching and writing about football.

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