Holland at Euro 2012 - 'The pressure got to them'

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Only half the Holland squad entered the Wisla Krakow pitch on Thursday for a post-match practice session. Most of them had been substitutes at Wednesday night’s classic encounter with Germany, which left the Dutch with their second bruising defeat in as many Euro 2012 matches. The stars who had given their all in the blistering heat of eastern Ukraine were rested to recover from an exhausting match and a late-night flight from Kharkiv.

The international media, who had once again flocked to the Reymana Stadium in droves, hadn’t been told in advance. “I’ve come for the big stars, and all I see is Ibrahim Afellay and Dirk Kuyt,” an English radio reporter complained. “Besides, the Dutch are known for their infighting and feuds, but there seems to be little of that at this tournament. At least, they have so far managed to keep it all to themselves.”

Yi Lu from gochina.net isn’t amused either: “You can’t believe how many Holland fans there are in China. The Oranje hype started in the late 1980s with Marco van Basten, who is still a huge name in China. Now, with results as poor as they are, these fans are deeply disappointed and want to know what’s going on. But it’s very hard to get information, because the Holland players are virtually inaccessible to the non-Dutch media. Today, they don’t even show up.”

More laid-back two years ago
Lu says the entire atmosphere surrounding the Holland squad was quite different at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they reached the final for the third time in history.

“The Holland players were much more approachable then. They were good-humoured and after every training session, they would come to the mixed zone for at least 15 minutes to answer questions from journalists,” says Lu. “Dirk Kuyt even used to stay for much longer. Now, everything is so secretive and press officials are so protective.”

“There might be a practical reason for this,” says Wim Vos from the Belgian daily Gazet van Antwerpen.

“At the Euros, there’s one day less between matches than at the World Cup and that gives players less time to recover, train or talk to the media.”

Spain and Germany more accessible
“But that goes for all the teams,” retorts Lu. “At this very moment, one of my colleagues is interviewing Germany attacker Mesut Özil, who also played most of last night’s match in Kharkiv. The other day, we had a long conversation with Spain defender Sergio Ramos. And it was so easy to set up the interview. I don’t know what’s happening here with the Dutch. Although I can understand that you’re disinclined to communicate if you fail to achieve results.”

Vos begs to differ. He finds it unheard-of that an icon like Robin van Persie can simply refuse to speak to the media for the entire duration of the tournament. “And now Klaas Jan Huntelaar is doing the same. I just don’t get it. Why doesn’t the Dutch FA intervene?”

The Belgian journalist fails to understand why Holland manager Bert van Marwijk is often so grumpy at press conferences.

“These gatherings are often a bad-tempered affair. It all started a few weeks ago, when right after the pre-Euro 2012 friendly against Slovakia, a young journalist, possibly a trainee, asked a very basic question. A bit off tangent, I agree, but the response from Van Marwijk was disproportionate and rather unfriendly. And he’s remained quite irritable since.”

Again, Vos offers a simple explanation:

“The Dutch have been under tremendous pressure to perform at the Euros, to live up to high expectation created by the 2010 World Cup and by an impressive qualifying run for the euros: anything less than the final in Kyiv was seen as a failure. But, of course, the 2010 World Cup final was actually a step too high for them and now they find themselves at the bottom of Group B at the Euros, which is far below their capacity. For me, it’s clear that the pressure got to them.”