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From 2nd Place to 3rd Place to No Place

Total Football’s total mess is over…but only briefly.

The Dutch blanked Sweden 2-nil in Amsterdam ArenA today in the final game of World Cup qualifying. However, as a consequence of a massive goal differential shortage entering the match, the Oranje finished tied for second in points. But because goal differential is the first tie-breaker, the Dutch technically finished in the non-qualifying position of third place in their group behind Sweden and France. Therefore, the Dutch will miss the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

As a lifelong fan of the Netherlands, it’s tough to see this team not playing in a World Cup. Without diving too deep into the weeds right now (failure of a youthful, next generation of footballers to develop at a world-class level), what’s even more depressing is what was said after the final whistle blew.

Arjen Robben (33), my favorite soccer player, declared he is retiring from international competitions with the Dutch National Team.

This move was predictable, as it was either going to be announced this year or after the World Cup next summer had the Dutch qualified. Still, to know that Robben won’t put on a national team jersey again is jarring. One of the leaders of a golden generation of players for the men in orange (Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie) was excruciatingly close to winning his country’s first-ever World Cup on multiple occasions. The Dutch finished second in 2010 and finished third in 2014.

Now, as this disastrous World Cup cycle has proven, the Dutch will not be serious contenders for a long, long time. There is a very concerning talent gap for such a historically influential and talent-rich soccer nation.

Returning back to Robben’s breaking news, three pieces of immediate solace are:

  • He will continue to play for Bayern Munich.
  • His two goals today (especially his second) were classic Arjen Robben moments.
  • He retired from the Dutch National Team in front of his home fans.

Speaking of his classic second goal today against Sweden…

Ironically enough, the Netherlands won today’s game with the worst lead in soccer. And 2-nil proved, once again, to be the worst lead because they needed a much higher goal differential to miraculously qualify for next summer’s World Cup. It was a loss disguised as a win.

As opposed to Arjen Robben’s legacy with the Netherlands, which was always a win-win situation.

Thank you for all the memories playing for the Oranje! 

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Predictable? Yes. Unstoppable? Also Yes.

What is it the kids say these days? “Flashback Friday”?

For one very specific reason, I’m glad the kids do. Actually, I’m technically happy for five specific reasons. But those added four take a back seat to the aforementioned one on this Friday. And don’t worry, you’ll see why and how I arrived at that conclusion shortly.

If you survived that linguistic adventure, then congrats! In human speak, Bayern Munich hosted Arsenal for the first game of the round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League. Due to the very nature of the home-and-away game setup, the home side has the burden of scoring many goals while not conceding the always valuable away goal.

The bad news is that Bayern Munich did let one of those away goals slip past their goal line (even after an incredible penalty kick save by Manuel Neuer).

The good news is that Bayern Munich managed to score one…two…three…four…yes, five goals against Arsenal at their Fortress of Winning (a nickname I’m trying out) known as the Allianz Arena!

Ladies and gentlemen, the aforementioned one moment isolated for this “Flashback Friday”comes from two days ago. But trust me, it’s definitely worth the immediate flashback treatment.

(Watch the entire highlight to see the ball’s ridiculously awesome path to the back of the net)

Wait, I thought Arsenal’s nickname was “The Gunners”?

I say that because it looks like Arjen Robben’s left foot should be the one declared a sharpshooter with laser precision.

I Still Have Chills

A soccer match not to be forgotten.

Last Tuesday, my parents and I were in attendance for the bone-chilling Champions League game between two of the best soccer teams in the world: Hosts Bayern Munich and visitors Atlético Madrid. Despite the fact that the latter had clinched the first spot in the group before kickoff (the former secured the second spot), there was a lot on the line.

  • Bayern Munich needed to prove it could defeat Atlético Madrid after suffering multiple losses recently.
  • Manager Carlo Ancelotti had to assure the Munich faithful that his brand of soccer football could show promise for winning a Champions League trophy, which will more than likely have to go through Atlético Madrid at some point next spring.

With the temperature in the mid-20s accompanied by a fog that created a cloud inside the confines of the massively impressive Allianz Arena, the game conditions forced the visitors to bundle up and huddle up in a circle for most of their warm-ups and the hosts going about their business as usual.

Pride in club and pride in the future of this season was on the line.

(Click Play, then “Click this video on YouTube” and then please return to this blog)

Bayern Munich 1-0 Atlético Madrid! 

Seeing my favorite team (Bayern Munich) and favorite player (Arjen Robben) in-person and in their home stadium was a thrill of a lifetime. From Robben’s unique and separate warm-up routine to his 83 minutes of brilliant play on the pitch, witnessing one of the greatest soccer players in the world and of his generation was truly epic. And even as the bone-chilling weather was piercing through every layer of my clothes, I’ve never been so happy to be as freezing cold as I was for the hours before, during and after this game.

Bayern Munich’s motto is “Mia San Mia,” which translates to “We are who we are.”

Having now been to a Bayern Munich game at the Allianz Arena, I have a deeper understanding of just what “Mia San Mia” means.

P.S. Thanks Mom and Dad for the unforgettable experience and the amazing seats!

Déjà Vu’s Comforting Goal

Iceland 1 – Netherlands nil.

When will this nightmare end?

The shocking struggles of the Oranje, following a third place finish at last year’s World Cup with a strikingly similar squad, leaves fans of this small, yet immensely talented soccer nation in a sustained state of disbelief. With just three games remaining in the qualifying stage of the UEFA Euro 2016, the Dutch are in third place with 10 points, 6 shy of the Czech Republic and 8 short of football’s current Cinderella: Iceland.

Math is increasingly becoming the 12th eligible player against the Netherlands.

In Danny Blind’s first game as the new Dutch manager, he faced an uphill battle with an injury to his new captain Arjen Robben and a red card from defender Bruno Martins Indi in the first half and a penalty for Iceland minutes into the second half. It’s difficult to render a legitimate verdict against Blind at this point. He deserves time and a healthy roster to make a remarkable (and necessary) comeback for his home country in order to plan the coveted business trip to France for UEFA Euro 2016.

However, not substituting in Robin van Persie in the second half when they needed a goal? That’s one question that Mr. Blind needs to answer.

As a loyal Dutch fan for many, many years now, the Netherlands’ second group loss to Iceland was unthinkable. They have the talent, a new coach’s perspective and home filed advantage. Surely, a win was coming.

Nope.

It was a little more than year ago when the Dutch shocked Spain and the world in the best way imaginable. Spain’s reign at the top of world soccer was officially over and they knew it. Here’s a much-needed throwback this Thursday to the 2014 World Cup’s thrilling opening match.

I still believe: Hup Holland Hup.