THE HAGUE: World football’s perennial bridesmaids, the Netherlands, will be hoping that Euro 2012 is the tournament at which they end their 24-year wait for a major title.
Beaten World Cup finalists in 1974, 1978 and 2010, they have reached the semi-finals at the European Championship three times since they last lifted the trophy in 1988, only to fall before the final on each occasion.
Nobody could accuse the Netherlands of being boring on the road to Poland and the Ukraine. With 37 goals in 10 matches they were the top scorers in qualifying, while their 11-0 annihilation of San Marino last September was the biggest victory in the country’s history.
There have been mixed results in recent friendlies, with a 0-0 draw against Switzerland in November followed by a 3-0 humbling at the hands of Germany in Hamburg a few days later. Key players, including Robin van Persie, were missing for the Germany game, however, and there was encouragement to be found in February’s 3-2 defeat of England at Wembley, where Arjen Robben scored a fine brace.
With Robben fit and firing for Bayern Munich, van Marwijk has plenty of options in attack but Wesley Sneijder has endured an injury-plagued season for Inter Milan, making just 16 league starts. The Netherlands match with old rivals Germany in Kharkiv on June 13 promises to be the big match in Group B but coach van Marwijk says his players cannot afford to look beyond their opening game against the Danes four days earlier. The game against Portugal will also revive memories of ‘The Battle of Nurember’” in the 2006 World Cup, which saw an unprecedented 16 yellow cards awarded.But van Marwijk said: “I only look at the first match. For me the first match is the most important.”