Deeply disappointed but not demoralised, the Dutch national football team entered their Krakow training pitch for a post-match practice session on Sunday, following their 1-0 shock defeat against Denmark.
The return trip had been tiring, with the squad's night flight from Ukraine delayed by an emergency landing by another plane at Kharkiv airport. And so, the Holland stars took it easy. Some stretching, a slow jog, a few minutes with the ball and a short sparring match on a quarter of the pitch, followed by a finishing exercise in which – curiously - Robin van Persie did not take part.
Van Persie was one of the Holland strikers who failed to net at least one of the 28 opportunities the Dutch got against Denmark. Twenty of those attempts weren’t even on target. Staggering numbers. How often do a team create so many chances and still fail to score?
Explanations abound. Excuses, if you will. Holland boss Bert van Marwijk blamed “the temperature and the humidity in Kharkiv”. John Heitinga pointed to “the penalty that wasn’t given” following a last-minute handball by a Danish defender. Ibrahim Afellay talked about “focus” and skipper Mark van Bommel about “concentration”. But perhaps it much simpler than that: sheer lack of luck.
Frustrated but not finished
“We were really determined and better than our opponents but of course you have to score that goal – that's part of the game,” Van Marwijk told reporters after the match. “We can still do a lot and we just have to beat Germany. That's not going to be easy but that's the goal now and everyone knows that.”
Van Marwijk might opt to play centre-back Joris Mathijsen, whose experience will be needed on Wednesday in the shaky Holland defence against the formidable firepower of the German strikers.
One of many Dutch players with a Bundesliga past, Mathijsen joined Sunday’s training session and seems to have sufficiently recovered from the hamstring injury he suffered in a warm-up friendly two weeks ago.
Germany’s double attacking line
“It’ll be an exciting match,” predicts Bild reporter Milani Babak.
“There are many similarities between the two sides. The key difference is just in front of the back line, where Holland have two defensive players (Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong) and Germany have two more offensive players (Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger). And that could well tip the balance on Wednesday.”
All is not yet lost. Not even if Holland were to be defeated by their archrivals and top title favourites. A loss against Germany might be the best scenario, in the view of some Dutch journalists. With their confidence given another boost, Germany would then thrash the weak Danish side in the final Group B match.
For the Dutch, it could provide an incentive to give all they have in their final fixture against Portugal. Having little to lose apart from their reputation, it would make the men in orange less tense and more relaxed. And who knows, they might even be able to score.