Dutch destiny: the future is Oranje
The big kick off is almost upon us, when 16 national teams – starting today – will do battle to become No.1 in Europe for the year 2012. I won’t bore you with how I think the teams are going to fare or how the groups will pan out; all I will say is that the “Oranje” of the Netherlands, that’s Holland to everyone else, will be lifting the trophy on 1 July by beating Germany in the final in what will be a repeat of the 1974 World Cup final, when West Germany won 2-1 in Munich.
Holland and Germany are two teams that have goals in them and, as we all know, goals win games. In the past two years, Germany have beaten England, Argentina, Uruguay (twice), Brazil and Holland (ahem!). In the same period, Holland have blasted 37 goals in qualification, making their defeat in the 2010 World Cup final to Spain a distant memory. The Germans won ten out of ten in their qualifying campaign, which is a remarkable feat in modern international football.
In the latest Fifa world rankings, it’s no surprise to see both countries locked together, with Germany third and Netherlands fourth – ahead of Brazil, no less. Germany’s attacking game is centred on Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil accompanied by Mario Gomez and the twilight man in Lazio’s Miroslav Klose, who will fight with Arsenal’s summer signing Lukas Podolski for the lone striker role.
Deutschland have flair and creativity throughout their side that is a million miles away from the defensive art of the past. They don’t invite teams on to them anymore, they go for the jugular. That’s not to say they don’t have good defenders, they do – just not in the style of old.
Philipp Lahm is consistently outstanding as is Manuel Neuer in goal, though he does have the odd lapse in concentration. But their central defensive spine isn’t the best. Per Mertesacker, of Arsenal, has had a torrid season with injuries and form and could be their weak point who others will target.
Jerome Boateng may have had a decent season with Bayern Munich but he is suspect with nippy players attacking him. Mats Hummels, of German champions Borussia Dortmund, is a classy defender, commanding and composed like the German stars of the past. He will be hoping to keep his team-mates solid and compact if they are to prevail.
In the middle of the park, Bastian Schweinsteiger is a work horse and he complements the 4-2-3-1 system favoured by coach Joachim Low, aided by Thomas Muller and Ozil, who glides around the pitch. All this makes Germany look unbeatable but I think they will come up short again as they did at Euro 2008 as this is Holland’s time. Even though the countries are in the same group this time, along with fellow top-ten ranked Portugal and Denmark, I see both of them trying to outscore each other at the top, clearing an easier path through to the latter stages.
For decades, Holland have been the nearly men, a solitary trophy in the 1988 Euros the only reward for their endeavours on the world stage. However, this year, I think they have all the tools that they need to go one step farther. In Robin van Persie, they possess a striker in scintillating form. After a dream year at Arsenal, where he bagged an incredible 37 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions, he is one of the favourites for the Golden Boot at the Euros.
Van Persie is aided in the attacking final third by Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder, Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben and Schalke’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who has again scored goals at an astonishing rate in qualifying – 12, which has put him in touching distance of Patrick Kluivert’s all-time record of 40. Huntelaar has poached 31 goals in 53 games at international level after bagging 29 in 34 for Schalke this season. So their two strikers are bang in form.
Holland are efficient in the middle with Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, although only one will start as Holland fans demand that their team goes forward. Sneijder, Spurs’ Rafael van der Vaart and PSV’s Kevin Strootman are available if the enforcers are not required.
Again, like Germany, it’s at the back where they don’t possess the best defensive shape. Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax), Joris Mathijsen (Malaga), Johnny Heitinga (Everton) and Stijn Schaars (Sporting Lisbon) are solid, if not spectacular, and in goal Maarten Stekelenburg (Roma) is a big-game performer as he has proved since taking over from the legendary Edwin van der Sar.
Holland’s strengths are that they play with a club-style harmony. Prolific in attack, strong in midfield and stubborn, though not exactly pretty, in defence. This is usually the type of team that comes through after almost a month of huge battles.
I expect it to be tight, with all the attackers on show, but I do expect the Oranje to prevail and lead one almighty colourful party in Poland and the Ukraine.