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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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RIP Johan Cruyff

For Dutch soccer players and fans, the lion is the symbol on their national team jersey crest. However, most would agree Johan Cruyff is the true icon of Dutch soccer.

The Dutch footballing legend passed away today at the age of 68 in Barcelona, his adoptive city where he paved the way for the club’s sustained greatness.

“Cruyff, who made his name as a forward with Ajax and Barcelona, was European footballer of the year three times.

He won three consecutive European Cups with Ajax from 1971, coached Barcelona to their first European Cup triumph in 1992 and helped the Dutch reach the 1974 World Cup final, where they lost 2-1 to West Germany.”
–BBC

Cruyff’s wisdom on the sport was equal to his talent on the pitch and sideline.

“Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”
–Johan Cruyff

In the soccer world, March 24, 2016 will be remembered as a very sad day. Johan Cruyff was a genuine living legend, influential as a player, coach and mentor. His innovative style of play, aptly defined as “total football,” introduced and revolutionized the theory focused on the fluidity of players on the pitch.

In other words, a central midfielder was not limited to a role in the middle and a winger was not restricted to just the outside. The position players (not the goalie) were interchangeable. When executed properly, there are few (if any) teams that can counter this approach.

“Total football” is a world-class strategy.

And world-class is the right way to describe Johan Cruyff’s legacy.

Cruyff’s tactical prowess has and continues to influence the massively successful and astronomically in-demand managerial services of Pep Guardiola (Barcelona, Bayern Munich). Plus, the academies at Ajax and Barcelona continue to instill his style and wisdom.

Speaking of style and wisdom, watch his take on the Dutch national team from back in 2008.

That’s what total knowledge of soccer looks and sounds like.

No Lions in Paris

(EPA)

(EPA)

Dutch tourism to France may be at an all-time low next summer.

The Netherlands soccer team suffered a devastating 3-2 loss today against the Czech Republic, who were not very kind visitors in the Amsterdam Arena. Missed opportunities for goals throughout 93 minutes, porous defending in the back and Robin van Persie’s miscalculation that resulted in an own goal sealed their fate.

It should be noted van Persie did score against the Czech Republic, along with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Since the Dutch were hanging by a thread of hope and a prayer (a must-win game and Iceland victory) before kickoff, the odds against their qualifying for the playoff to then qualify to the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament in France were very high.

Still, the Oranje players and dedicated fans (myself included) had faith in an epic turnaround.

Despite injuries to key players (including, but not limited to Arjen Robben, Jasper Cillessen and much of its defense), it was expected that the Netherlands would be able to control its games and earn enough wins and ties to book its ticket to France in the summer of 2016.

They didn’t.

“…Netherlands finished fourth in the group and failed to qualify for the European Championships for the first time since 1984…”
–Tom Webber, Goal.com

Great teams in all sports experience injury woes that can paralyze their chances at grand success. Some of these teams manage to squeeze out wins, even when the odds were all against them. Even though the Dutch have had their pitfalls throughout its history (internal turmoil, lack of motivation), they have also had moments of glory and the best kinds of shock-and-awe. Just last summer, the Dutch finished third in the World Cup.

And this is where this defeat stings the most.

The expectations were and are sky high for this squad, as in a championship-level altitude. Some of the best players in the world are on this team. Let’s take a closer look with their age in parenthesis:

  • Arjen Robben (31)
  • Wesley Sneijder (31)
  • Robin van Persie (32)
  • Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (32)
  • Rafael van der Vaart (32)

The fact is those listed above, a golden generation in their own right, have world-class talent, pace and vision. Age has not slowed them down. However, the reason for listing the aforementioned players who define the explosive and creative offense identity of the Dutch is to acknowledge that this was the last UEFA Euro tournament they could have competed for within their peak years.

As a tried-and-true Dutch fan for more than 15 years, it’s painful to even concede this reality.

The final score today was a disqualifying loss, but the opportunity to play for and potentially win a defining European championship was the real loss and it was (and is) gut-wrenching.

There are many questions to be answered in the coming days, weeks, months:

  • Is head coach Danny Blind to blame when he had such a limited, bleak chance of success?
  • Who will be the head coach for the 2018 World Cup qualifying?
  • What players listed above will be leading the Dutch towards the next World Cup in Russia?
  • Aside from Daley Blind, can the Netherlands find high-quality defenders?
  • How quickly can this team fix its problems and return to playing world-class soccer/Total Football?

Fortunately, the KNVB’s current golden generation has a proficiency for answering its harshest critics every couple of years. They have one more chance lift a trophy to solidify their golden Oranje legacy.

From Russia, with love of strength and the World Cup trophy, 2018 is the mission of a lifetime.

Starry Sight

Vincent van Gogh was a genius.

That esteemed term, typically reserved for the few, is far too often granted to the many. However, in the case of the Dutch painter born March 30, 1853, it’s appropriate. Despite only reaching 37 years of age and painted portraits with an expression that balances between indifference and scowling, his legacy is surprisingly inspiring and long-lasting. The way that van Gogh conceptualized the world in colorfully wavy, yet defined spaces screams (sorry, wrong artist) a visionary that captivates people and admirers alike 125 years after he passed away.

Remarkable.

His masterpiece is “Starry Night.” As a matter of fact, it’s my personal favorite. On April 12, 2013 at 6:03 p.m. (iPhone picture info.), I was a mere three-feet from this chef-d’oeuvre!

(Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh)

(“Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh, MoMA)

There are many tributes to Vincent van Gogh and to “Starry Night” in particular. The following use of dominoes is truly something else.

“FlippyCat—easily the most patient YouTube celebrity—spent around 11 hours recreating Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night using 7,067 carefully stacked dominoes that were then sent tumbling in a glorious chain reaction.”
–Andrew Liszewski, Gizmodo 

Creativity has a tendency to reveal new, unseen dimensions.

It’s like discovering a new constellation.