Early Doors

Dutch disharmony in defeat

Early Doors

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Arjen Robben's walk was a long, lonely one. Substituted with 12 minutes remaining of a 2-1 defeat to Germany that leaves Netherlands perilously close to elimination from Euro 2012, Robben snuck off the far side of the pitch at Kharkiv's Metalist Stadium and embarked on a prolonged amble round the back of the German goal.

After pulling off his orange Netherlands shirt, he drew his own spatter of applause from the Dutch supporters at that end of the stadium while his team was still trying to salvage something from the game. Having circled half the pitch, the winger then cast his shirt to the floor and instead of joining the bench he crumpled to the floor a couple of metres away, physically detached from the Netherlands substitutes and officials.

Captain Mark van Bommel came to join him, having a quiet word in his ear, but still Robben remained sat apart from his colleagues. At the final whistle, when every member of the Dutch travelling party made their way onto the pitch to commiserate with friends and applaud those fans who have turned Kharkiv a hue of Oranje these past few days, he alone slowly clambered to his feet and slunk off down the tunnel in a solitary retreat.

Now, Early Doors is no body language expert, but this didn't look particularly promising. Not on an evening when, just as Germany were continuing to confound the old stereotypes about their nation's football, Netherlands appeared to be confirming theirs.

For Joachim Loew's Germany, this was another step on their impressive ascent in international football. Though Robin van Persie's lovely strike ensured the Dutch made a fight of things towards the end, this was in truth an emphatic performance from a side that, having defeated Portugal and Netherlands in their opening two games, are likely to be many people's favourites to win the trophy.

Mario Gomez's two brilliant goals — ensuring that the striker, who also scored the winner against Portugal, can finally think about the Euros without breaking out in the cold sweat that his Euro 2008 performances probably provoke — caught the eye, yet it was Germany's appreciation of space, superior movement and more intuitive football that saw them triumph.

It was all a bit, well, Dutch. It was Rafael van der Vaart who said of Germany's performances at the 2010 World Cup that "they played like us", and this result, building on a 3-0 friendly win for the Germans in November, appeared to confirm the trend.

While Germany can look forward to the knockout phases, unless a largely unthinkable disaster happens, Netherlands are left to contemplate a likely exit and the recriminations that will follow.

In truth, though, they had already started before kick-off, as a country with a track record of self-combustion at major tournaments threatened to come apart at the seams.

Denmark manager Morten Olsen said prior to his side's victory over the Dutch in the first round of games that the Netherlands had a "good arrogance", but this has since been exposed as a faulty analysis. There was nothing good about Rafael van der Vaart's pre-game claim that Germany had "only three outstanding players", of which Gomez was not one.

Neither was there anything good about the extraordinary claims of Wesley Sneijder in the build-up to such a crucial game.

"It is time we let go of these pathetic egos," he said prior to the Germany match. "If somebody is creating a mess [within the squad], I will stand up against them.

"We don't need a psychologist with the Dutch team, we are grown-up men. The ones who have a problem with other players or the manager should tell them face to face. That is the only psychology we need. We have to stop living on little islands. We must all go for the same goal, be united or face the consequences."

The image of a little island came floating back into ED's head when Robben took his remote seat away from the Dutch bench with 10 minutes to go, and it appeared sporadically throughout the contest as Dutch players gestured at each other and externalised their frustration. Dr Linda Papadopoulos would have had a field day analysing the body language of the 11 Dutchmen out on the field.

There were rumours abound of a falling out between Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, pointed guesses as to whom Sneijder may have been referring to, and when having a chit-chat with ED in the mixed zone afterwards, Dirk Kuyt admitted that the mood in the camp was far from perfect.

"Two points from no games so the mood in the dressing room wasn't the best," said the former Liverpool hero. "I don't have to explain what was said. If you are 2-0 down at half-time against Germany I don't think I have to explain that.

"You always have egos in a team. I think Germany has the same problem and Spain has the same problem. You have many good players but today on the pitch there was a team trying to win the game, so once again I don't like to look for excuses."

Kuyt may not have, but most observers didn't have to look too far for the reasons behind Netherlands' awful start to the competition. They were out there in the open.

After the Dutch abandoned the best aspects of their cultural legacy at the 2010 World Cup when producing a horribly physical performance in the final against Spain, leading Total Football disciples to recoil in horror, here they recalled the worst of those aspects.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "This is not a decision the board and I have taken lightly. Harry arrived at the club at a time when his experience and approach was exactly what was needed. This decision in no way detracts from the excellent work Harry has done during his time with the club and I should like to thank him for his achievements and contribution. Harry will always be welcome at the Lane." - Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy confirms the departure of manager Harry Redknapp in a club statement. A club statement released at 3:37am this morning, no less.

FOREIGN VIEW: "Last night's incidents do not have any impact on the probation period for the sanction imposed on the RFS following the incidents at their first match against the Czech Republic in Wroclaw. This means the six-point deduction is still currently suspended." - UEFA confirm that Russia will be docked six points in qualifying for the next European Championship if their fans step out of line again after disturbances at their opening Euro 2012 game against the Czech Republic last Friday.

COMING UP: It's all or nothing for Trap's boys - Republic of Ireland face defending champions Spain at 7:45pm after Thursday's other Group C clash, Italy v Croatia at 5pm. Both matches will get the full live treatment here.

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