Walking through Amsterdam-Oud West I only saw a single street where the Orange flags dominated. The Orange fever does not want to continue completely. We wait, with bated breath.
Why this reticence that I also feel in myself? It has a lot to do with the two matches played against mediocre opponents. The Dutch team was not convinced, only a few players achieved a generous pass. Memphis Depay, the man who had already been proclaimed the hero of Orange in advance, remained relatively the most below par. Without Depay in top form, NOS analyst Rafael van der Vaart realistically predicted, we cannot win this European Championship.
It is striking how much the criticism of Orange manifests itself on a broad front. In the past, contempt was limited to a single writing journalist (Ben de Graaf van de Volkskrant) and later the cross boys from jongens Football (not Veronica) Inside, nowadays all kinds of former internationals are ready with their spicy judgments.
No, not Pierre van Hooijdonk, who blatantly begged for popular favor when he claimed in the tranquility of the Netherlands – Austria that he was “enjoying” again. “Pierre does say that,” Van der Vaart put into perspective, “but that doesn’t go further than sixteen meters. We create few chances.”
Ibrahim Afellay, Ronald Koeman, Theo Jansen and Marco van Basten did not spare the Orange in the least. Even Willem Vissers, one of the mildest football journalists in the Netherlands, wrote in the Volkskrant after the match against Austria: “Poverty football is accompanied by lavish results for the Dutch national team.”
I could agree with all that criticism, but I would like to add something to it. So far, the Netherlands has indeed played messy, rather conservative football, focused more on defense than on attack, more on prevention than on producing goals.
However, this does not only apply to the Netherlands, but to most other countries. For example, I looked with horror at Germany – France, two countries with great attackers who barely get a chance in such a match. Seen Gnabry, Mbappe, Benzema? At most in a few flashes.
It’s careful, almost machine-like football, just like recently in the nasty Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City. Only the coaches are satisfied with such matches. “Interesting,” said Louis van Gaal.
That Germany can do much more was shown on Saturday in the wonderful European Championship match against Portugal. The Germans had to attack because they had lost to France. They did it with verve: the always cautious Portugal was put with their backs against the wall from the kick-off, seemed to get away with a smart counter, but eventually lost out to the German class.
Italy also dares to attack courageously these days, but otherwise? Let’s hope that the most attacking team wins this European Championship. That would be good for the reputation of top football. And if the Netherlands accidentally wins the European Championship with conservative football… am I still so critical? No, then the critic and the chauvinist in me give each other a generous hand and I rush opportunistically to the canals to cheer on Frank de Boer as a new Mandela.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 21, 2021