Category Archives: EC 2012 Qualifying

Sweden – Holland 3 – 2: First competitive defeat within 90 minutes for Van Marwijk’s Oranje

With a 3-2 victory over a Dutch side that was unbeaten in competitive 90 minutes matches since 2007, Sweden managed to qualify directly for Euro 2010, claiming the best record of second placed teams. It wasn’t even a bad game from the Dutch side, but three goals were conceded rather cheaply from set piece related chances and despite initially coming back after the opening goal, Holland suffered an unnecessary defeat.


Holland’s 4-2-3-1

Van Marwijk opted for the same starting eleven that had defeated Moldova 1-0 just a few days earlier. Despite that unconvincing score line, the 24 goal scoring chances created tell the more justified optimistic story, with a particularly impressive first half, and a rather disappointing fade in the second half of that match.


The starting line-ups

Sweden’s different game plan

Manager Hamren adjusted his game plan for this match, knowing that his team’s optimistic high line was quickly punished by Huntelaar’s false nine activity in the first group match between these teams. Sweden conceded two early goals in similar fashion, where Dutch players were played in behind their high defensive line after striker Huntelaar had dislodged one of the central defenders from the back line.

This time around, Hamren had his back line apply zonal marking, rather than following the central striker upon his backward wanderings into the advanced midfield area. This did allow Holland a numerical advantage in midfield, but at least it allowed the back four to remain intact and they dealt much better with the Dutch offensive threats.


The first half

Holland dominated the first half, albeit more in irrelevant terms like time of possession of the ball and number of passes connected, rather than in terms of goal scoring chances created. In line with this, the first half finished with a level score line, 1-1. Sweden got their goal by directly converting a cheaply conceded free kick outside the box, when inexperienced defender Bruma tugged the shirt of striker Elmander, who already found himself isolated and rather far from goal.

Facing a goal down only for the fifth time in Van Marwijk’s reign, Holland continued like they did before. Huntelaar’s false nine role, as described above, provided the extra man in midfield, where Holland’s three man midfield already did a good job against Sweden’s flat four man midfield. In response to the ‘two central Swedish midfielders versus three central Dutch midfielders’ problem, both Sweden’s wide midfielders played rather narrow. This, in turn, liberated space for both Dutch full-backs, and Pieters and Van der Wiel could be seen in offensive action with a high number of early crosses swung into the box.

One of these early crosses found Huntelaar’s head for the equalizer, a goal that crowned a beautifully timed high pace run into the box, after the striker initially played a role building up the same attack around the midway line.

Van der Vaart’s role in this game also deserves a mention. Against Moldova he suffered in the offensive midfield role, being unable to receive as many passes at feet as he would have desired. This time, he tried to solve this problem by dropping a bit deeper from the crowded zone right in front of the Swedish back line. This also allowed Huntelaar a tad more space for his false nine activities.


The second half

Based upon the first half balance, and the come-back goal before half time, a Dutch victory was more on the cards than the eventual loss that followed in the end. And things did look brightly when another excellent display of Huntelaar’s movement unlocked the Swedish left-back zone. A subsequent chip by Van der Vaart found Van Persie, whose effort was blocked, upon which Kuyt scored from the rebound.

Two Swedish goals in a few minutes time then turned the game around before the hour mark. First Sebastian Larsson converted a penalty, after Mathijsen was unlucky to block a cross with a raised hand while sliding to block that same cross. And a few minutes later, Toivonen fired home a rebound from the edge of the area after Johan Elmander, not renowned for his pace, had beaten Mathijsen in a run out wide after a quickly taken throw in.

In the remaining half hour, Sweden, knowing that a successful defense of this lead would see them through to the Euro 2012 main tournament, gave their all and held onto the narrow lead. Van Marwijk initially made a one-for-one substitution, introducing Elia for Kuyt and later on brough an extra striker with Luuk de Jong for Kevin Strootman. But Holland didn’t find a way through the Swedish defense.



In the end

Despite dominating in terms of possession (73%), Van Marwijk’s team only just created more chances than the Swedes did. Holland managed eight shots on target from eleven attempt, while Sweden managed five from nine attempts. And in a low scoring game like football is you’re likely to lose a game every once in a while with these kind of numbers.

The goals Holland conceded were rather cheap, and provided a display of the relative weaknesses of this team. Young Jeffrey Bruma, playing in the absence of Heitinga, conceded a foul too many and Joris Mathijsen was unlucky for the second goal and beaten on pace for the third one. Up until the third Swedish goal, Vorm hadn’t made a single save and he was forced into only two more for the remainder of the match. In that regard, the Dutch defense performance wasn’t all that bad.

In offensive terms I think it’s safe to say that Wesley Sneijder’s long range passing and long range goal scoring threat was dearly missed in both the Sweden and Moldova game. Against Moldova, Van der Vaart struggled to receive enough passes at feet, while against Sweden he solved this by dropping a bit deeper, thereby involuntarily reducing the amount of offensive threat posed. A positive note with regard to work rate was Huntelaar’s excellent false nine role, but when the opponent consequently sticks  to a zonal marking back line, this concept loses a lot of effectiveness. Keeping the striker up front and pushing Van der Vaart more forward may have posed more problems for the Swedish back line.


Match stats provided by Infostrada Sports

Holland 1 – 0 Moldova: Fluid first half performance earns ninth consecutive Euro 2012 qualifying win

World Cup runners up Holland didn’t play the most convincing of games, but still succeeded in maintaining their impressive recent run of results. A fluid first half performance, characterized by lots of positional interaction among all forward and midfield players, ensured the victory, but the second half fade left an aftertaste of slight disappointment.


Holland’s run in numbers

Current national team manager Bert van Marwijk took charge 2008, and his first job was to lead Holland through the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup. Eight wins in eight matches followed. In this period, Holland also played 13 friendly matches, including the preparation campaign for the 2010 World Cup main tournament, winning 6, drawing 6 and losing only one match, Van Marwijk’s second match in charge, where Holland gave away a 1-0 lead to end up losing 1-2 at home against Australia.

The impressive run of six World Cup 2010 games won and a final drawn over 90 minutes (and subsequently lost after extra time) was followed by the present Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, where all nine matches were won. In between, four friendlies were played, with wins against Austria and Turkey and draws away at Uruguay and Brazil.

Compiling all that together, Van Marwijk currently holds a 31-10-1 record, going 40 matches unbeaten, whereby the World Cup final is counted as the draw that it was after 90 minutes. The last time the Dutch national team lost a competitive game over 90 minutes does not go back to the Euro 2008 quarter final, as a Van Basten led side lost 1-3 to an Andrey Arshavin inspired Russian team in extra time there (thanks for pointing this out in the comments section. The 2007 defeat against Belarus was the last Dutch defeat in 90 minutes of playing time.

The starting line-ups. The amount of arrows depicts the fluidity up front, with different players taking up the vacancy created both at the striker area and the right wing area.

The 4-2-3-1 in names and execution

Van Marwijk consequently sticks to his 4-2-3-1, and given the above mentioned run, has every reason to do so. Against Moldova, Holland had to do without the injured Robben, Sneijder, Heitinga and Stekelenburg, which made for interesting choices.

Up front Van Marwijk made the same choice as he did in the matches against Finland and San Marino, playing Robin van Persie from the right wing in an inside forward playmaking role with loads of positional freedom. One thing was different in this right wing area though, the vacancy created by Van Persie’s free role was alternatingly filled by Huntelaar, Van Bommel and Van der Wiel, rather than the more predictable marauding runs of the right full back that we used to see before.

Behind striker Huntelaar, Rafael van der Vaart was provided the opportunity to start in his preferred advanced central midfield position. Not an easy task beforehand, given that he had to fill the boots of Sneijder, who regularly displays both his elite long range passing skills and his long range goal scoring threat in that area. Not surprisingly, Van der Vaart didn’t convince in a crowded central midfield area, mostly because his team mates had trouble finding him at feet.

Finally, young HSV defender Jeffrey Bruma and in-form Swansea goal keeper Michel Vorm replaced Heitinga and Stekelenburg.


Moldova’s game plan

National manager Balint summed up his feelings quite well after the game, when stating his happiness with the limited defeat, stressing the four and five goals Holland scored against Sweden and Hungary respectively.

And to be fair, Moldova succeeded quite well in limiting damage with their ambitionless 4-5-1 line-up. The aimed to keep things compact by taking a deep stance and in fact considering their five man midfield and extended defensive line, rather than displaying any offensive intentions themselves.


Contrasting halves

There was a huge contract in the match between the first and the second half. In the first half, Holland kept a high pace, thanks to their quick passing, which seldom saw players taking more than three touches before passing the ball on. On top of that, nearly all free kicks were taken immediately, and most important of all, the opposing players were pressed very early on. This resulted in Moldova’s possessions lasting under ten seconds in the far majority of times, contribution to the high pace of the game, which benefited the Dutch team.

A further part of the high pace that was crucial to the success of the first half was the limited amount of fouls by both sides. The first half saw only five fouls by both teams, while in the second half the Dutch team ‘overfouled’ their opponents, making no less than nine fouls, compared to only two for Moldova.

Although the final 1-0 score line suggested a close game, the balance in terms of goal scoring chances told a different story. Holland created 24 chances, 12 in each half, against two by Moldova, both in the second half. A vintage display by Moldova goal keeper Namasco could be held responsible for the limiting the Dutch squad in expressing their dominance in the score line.


Midfield dilemma’s

In previous tactical reviews of the Dutch national team, the two different versions of the 4-2-3-1 system have been explained. Against superior opposition Van Marwijk prefers a genuine double holding midfielder system, like he used in the World Cup with Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong, while in order to break down inferior opposition, he prefers a deep-lying playmaker beside captain Van Bommel.

Before the appearance of Strootman as a first team regular for the Dutch national squad, things were quite clear in that regard. Playing either De Jong or Van der Vaart in that second defensive midfield spot forced Van Marwijk to show his cards. But with the introduction of Strootman things are a bit more complex. In fact he offers a hybrid between both the defensive and the more offensive variants of the system.

Strootman is very well capable of providing the physical presence the assist in the defensive part of the midfielder job, though it remains difficult to reach De Jong’s level of tackling. And on the offensive side, Strootman’s passing is up there with the best, as his 135 passes for a 93% completion rate of the Moldova match illustrated. While he may not offer the creativity and flair of Van der Vaart, he’s perfectly comfortable distributing the ball around at high pace.

So he offers a combination of the defensive and offensive variants already provided by Nigel de Jong and Rafael van der Vaart in that area. It’ll be very interesting to see Van Marwijk’s preferences once the four of De Jong, Strootman, Van der Vaart and Sneijder are all available for selection.


In the end

Given the dense calendar of modern professional footballers, the current system of qualification for major tournaments has come in for quite some stick. The 100% record Holland holds in the past World Cup and Euro 2012 qualifying campaigns supports the fact that selecting the best teams is hardly an argument to make in favor of the present system.

What it does offer, though, is a series of semi-competitive matches that allows the managers, players and not least the fans to get acquainted with their team and the qualities in-depth at their disposal. In that regard, the Moldova match contained some interesting points. Fluidity up front, with several different players taking turns on the wide positions, rather than predictable full-back overlapping runs and the concept of Strootman combining aspects of De Jong’s and Van der Vaart’s game in midfield.


Match data provided by Infostrada Sports