“It’s been a good learning experience,” Holland manager Bert van Marwijk told reporters at an impromptu gathering at Montevideo airport.
Only an hour earlier, Van Marwijk and his men had hurried off the pitch just minutes after a penalty shoot-out following their 1-1 draw against Uruguay. Under police escort, they were rushed to Carrasco International Airport to catch their plane to Rio, before volcanic ash from Patagonia would render the flight impossible.
“We didn’t make it easy for ourselves,” Van Marwijk said, assessing Holland’s ten-day Latin America tour, “but that’s how you learn. And if you’ve learned something new, then a trip like this has been worthwhile.”
The tour featured a repeat of the 2010 World Cup quarter final against Brazil, and of the semi-final against Uruguay. The Dutch won both matches last year (2-1 and 3-2 respectively); now they drew twice (0-0 and 1-1).
“We could have opted for easier opponents, like Spain, who travelled to the United States, but we deliberately accepted this challenge. I must say our depleted team put up a sterling performance against two top-flight teams."
Gunning for revenge
For Brazil and Uruguay, the exhibition matches against the 2010 World Cup runners-up presented an excellent opportunity to test their form three weeks prior to the Copa América, South-America’s prestigious tournament for national teams. In addition, they were keen to take revenge for last year’s defeats before their home crowds.
In the Netherlands, the two friendlies were seen as obligatory elements of a pleasure trip, coming after another long and busy season. Some key players called off at the very last minute (“I’ve taken note of that,” Van Marwijk said meaningfully), others were slightly injured and unwilling to take any risks.
“We had to bring in some fresh blood, and they performed to par. Another observation I was happy to make is that we’re mentally strong. We kept our cool under quite some pressure during these two matches, and even came back from a goal down in Montevideo during injury time.”
Van Marwijk said his side faced adverse conditions in Uruguay, like a new type of ball he’d never seen before, a poor pitch and a ref “who acted as if he would never let us win.” Whereas the Paraguayan referee of the Brazil game, Carlos Amarilla, was “top class”, his Argentinean counterpart in the second match, Nestor Pittana, was “biased against us.”
“He should have sent off the Uruguyan captain for his reckless challenge. He could have broken both Robin van Persie’s legs.”
The Holland manager singled out a few of his players for particular praise. Among the young recruits, he’d found debuting goalkeeper Tim Krul very stable and reliable. Midfielder Kevin Strootman, too, had made an excellent impression, “very proactive, always thinking two, three steps ahead and possessing great technical skill.”
Holiday at last
Among the old guard, Robin van Persie had shown remarkable discipline in Van Marwijk’s eyes. “With creative players like Robin, you always get a lot of movement in the game.” Dirk Kuyt, too, had played very cleverly, “moving from one side to the other, and turning up in front of the goal at exactly the right time.”
“What we’ve learned on this trip, we’ll take on board for the next match,” the Holland manager concluded. That will be at Wembley against England in August. “But first a well-deserved holiday for the players”.