The Dutch are one of the top-seeds for the UEFA Euro 2012 draw, scheduled on 2 December. Will last year’s World Cup runners-up be drawn into a group of death, or will they be likely to cruise easily to the quarter-final knock-out stages?
There’s never an easy start for teams competing in the European football championship finals. The differences in strength are marginal, putting the sides under intense pressure to perform right from the first kick-off. An early group-stage defeat almost inevitably spells an early exit, which is why the Euros is often regarded as more demanding and more difficult to win than the World Cup.
[media:factfile]Next year’s tournament will be exceptionally tough, on paper at least. The 2012 European Championship features the strongest imaginable 16-nation line-up. In fact, the entire top 14 of the UEFA rankings have qualified to join the co-hosts, Ukraine (No. 15) and Poland (No. 28).
Group of death
All this explains why Holland manager Bert van Marwijk refuses to speculate on his team’s chances at next year’s Euros.
“There won’t be any weak teams at the finals, so we’ll play to our strengths,” he says. Nonetheless, Van Marwijk will hope that Oranje won’t be drawn against Germany, Portugal and France in a first-round “group of death”.
Euro 2008 finalists Germany are one of the top favourites to win next year’s title. A young and talented side, Holland’s arch-rivals have been in splendid form for over a year, boasting a perfect qualifying record. Even more ominously, they thrashed the Netherlands 3-0 in a prestige friendly earlier this month.
Holland won’t be looking forward to meeting Portugal either. Featuring Real Madrid mega-star Cristiano Ronaldo, the team are among Europe’s strongest in Van Marwijk’s eyes.
Besides, a Dutch encounter with the Portuguese would evoke memories of one of the ugliest fixtures in football history: their 2006 World Cup match was marred by a record four red cards and 16 yellow.
And then there’s France, always a dark horse, who now find themselves in the lowest-ranked pot for the 2012 draw after failing to win a single match at the last two major tournaments.
Manager Laurent Blanc has successfully rejuvenated the side though, and with big names like Franck Ribéry and Samir Nasri, France have now been unbeaten for 17 games.
A far more palatable outcome for Holland might be to be drawn in a group with Russia, Greece and the Czech Republic. For many Dutch punters and pundits, that would be the best-case scenario, although Russia, currently managed by former Holland boss Dick Advocaat, have always proved a hard nut to crack for Oranje.
Euro 2004 winners Greece and Euro 1996 finalists the Czech Republic have failed to regain their old form and are seen as possible outsiders at best.
With giants like England and Italy lurking in pot two, and Denmark and Croatia still left in the other two pots, the odds are that Holland will end up somewhere in between a dream and a nightmare scenario. One thing seems certain: there won’t be an easy start for Oranje at next year’s Euros.