When Uefa decided to expand Euro 2016 to 24 teams, they had been looking to lend a hand to the continent’s smaller nations in reaching the competition. It was supposed, too, that it would be made even easier for the traditional powerhouses to progress.
The European body need to have the top sides competing in their biggest international tournament, of course, but they were not counting on one of its most prolific teams undermining their own chances by adopting a completely self-destructive strategy before the qualifying stages had even begun.
Indeed, after a bright 2014 World Cup campaign, it appears as if the Netherlands decided it would be more of a challenge to throw their good work out of the window, start from scratch and maybe even try not to qualify at all. They have very nearly succeeded.
In a pool with Iceland, Czech Republic, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Latvia and with two automatic qualifying places up for grabs, a seemingly pedestrian group for the World Cup bronze medallists has been nothing but farce from start to finish.
Sunday’s 3-0 defeat to Turkey has left them in fourth place in the group, two behind Fatih Terim’s side and with the second and final automatic spot now out of reach, they even look unlikely to grab a place in the play-offs.
It was always going to be difficult for them to reach the heights of their showing in Brazil last year, but there are no excuses for the Oranje. And while a talented group of players should have performed infinitely better than they have done, the blame must fall solely at the feet of Dutch football’s governing body.
Even before their campaign in South America, the KNVB had set a path for the national team which has brought complete disaster and shame upon the Oranje and culminated in them staring down the barrell in the Euro qualifiers.
Replacing Louis van Gaal was always going to be tough, but in not only naming Guus Hiddink as his successor, but having already identified Danny Blind as the man to follow has proven to be simply foolhardy and misguided.
Hiddink’s departure from the national team just 10 months after he took control saw Blind take the reins at a disastrous time, and the decline has continued apace.
Last Thursday, Blind took charge of his first game as the main man against Iceland; it was his first game as a head coach since May 2006. While the 54-year-old suffered immense bad luck in his debut, the comprehensive loss to Turkey was an illustration of how out of his depth he is and how torrid the campaign has been.
No organisation, questionable selections, poor strategy and without a shred of originality, the state of this post-Van Gaal era has been ludicrous.
The counter-attacking system the now-Manchester United boss utilised, which saw his side defy expectation in Brazil, should have been built upon heading into their qualification campaign. Van Gaal’s system was largely based on that which Ronald Koeman had introduced to Feyenoord and the former Barcelona player looked eager to take over and carry on that good work as his time in Rotterdam neared its end.
However, the association opted to follow a path of dismantling that effective style, instead harking back to the glory days of dominant, attacking football in a 4-3-3 system under Hiddink, neglecting the fact they did not have the players suitable for it. Not only did they overlook Koeman for the top job, he was insulted by being asked to assist Hiddink initially and then take over further down the line.
The idea of grooming someone for such a job is not a bad one in itself, but when the right candidate for it – like Koeman – is not available, it makes no sense to simply mash another figure into the role and expect things to work out smoothly. Regardless, the KNVB announced that Hiddink would lead the Dutch to Euro 2016 and then Blind would replace him ahead of the World Cup in Russia.
In hindsight, it is a laughable projection.
The Netherlands have convinced in just one game in this qualifying phase – a 6-0 win over Latvia. Even when they took on Kazakhstan in Amsterdam they were far below the level expected. Losing deservedly to Iceland twice, an abysmal defeat to Czech Republic and drawing with Turkey in the Dutch capital, the last year has been a disgrace for the Dutch.
While it may be a shame to see such a once strong national team miss out on a place in the European Championship, the Dutch have no God-given right to be there and the only thing that has been clear throughout this campaign is that they do not deserve a place in France.
The KNVB set Oranje down a terrible path at the start of 2014 and now they are paying the price. What’s more worrying is that it is hard to see how they can recover.