The Netherlands’ fall from World Cup semifinalist to failing to qualify for the World Cup was completed on Tuesday, as the Dutch officially finished third in their World Cup qualification group in Europe following a 2-0 win over Sweden. The Dutch had a slim hope to earn a playoff spot, but needed to beat Sweden by seven goals to do it.
It’s a surprising long-term collapse for one of the major soccer nations of Europe, a fall that began with the 2012 European Championships. After reaching the finals at the 2010 World Cup, the Oranje failed to win a match at the 2012 Euros, which cost coach Bert van Marwijk his job.
Louis van Gaal took control of the team for the 2014 cycle and seemed to stabilize the Dutch with a third-place finish in 2014, but cracks still appeared in the Dutch’s foundation. Former captain Mark van Bommel credited the Oranje’s success to the brilliance of Arjen Robben rather than anything van Gaal did, and warned of a coming collapse once the Netherlands’ golden generation began to depart or become substitutes.
The Dutch first suffered the loss of Robin van Persie during the qualifiers for Euro 2016 when he became a bench player, and they finished fourth in their qualifying group behind Iceland, the Czech Republic and Turkey. A coaching change from Guus Hiddink to Danny Blind didn’t help, and the Dutch never found their footing against France and Sweden in the current cycle. Dick Advocaat got better results than Blind when he took over for the last four matches, but by then, it was too late. When Sweden beat Luxembourg 8-0, a result Advocaat thought was impossible, the Oranje’s fate was sealed.
Can the Dutch Recover?
The Netherlands now face a summer without a World Cup and without meaningful matches until qualifying for the 2020 European championship. Advocaat will likely be given the chance to stay, although Van Marwijk is again available after guiding Saudi Arabia to the World Cup but resigning rather than move to the country. But regardless of the coach, the Dutch must deal with continued losses of their golden generation.
Wesley Sneijder was dropped from the squad for the final two matches, and Robben will be 37 when the next World Cup begins in 2022. If the next generation of Dutch soccer can’t figure things out, it won’t matter who the coach is.