By J Hutcherson (Sep 4, 2015) US Soccer Players – It was a tough night in a string of tough nights for the Netherlands on Thursday at Amsterdam ArenA. Playing the odds on favorites in an underdog story, the Netherlands fell to mighty Iceland in Euro 2016 qualifying. The result keeps the Netherlands in the playoff spot in Group A, looking up at the Czech Republic and group leaders Iceland. Turkey, a point behind them, is a difficult test on September 6 in Konya.
Dutch soccer in general is becoming a series of difficult tests. The last time I was at the ArenA, I had the pleasure of watching Ajax crash out of the Champions League at the first opportunity. A couple of weeks later, I was at a 3/4’s full AFAS Stadion to watch AZ’s unlikely comeback to make it to the Europa League group stage. They joined Ajax, dropping to the Europa and failing to impress in a playoff series against Jablonec, and Groningen who qualified directly for the group stage as cup winners. Last season’s Eredivisie champions PSV Eindhoven qualified directly to the Champions League group stage.
Where there are games that count waiting on the schedule there is hope, a sports truism that certainly applies to Dutch soccer. What isn’t as certain is basic quality. Club has been an issue for years, with the Eredivisie’s troubles well documented in multiple languages. It’s the National Team that’s the surprise, with the Netherlands in obvious decline.
It’s not even the old issue for Dutch soccer. Players so focused on making it look good that the basics slip. Tracking back on defense, making sure to actually score the goals, and playing the best version of the possession game that’s the country’s trademark. It’s simply taking advantage of mismatches and winning those games on the schedule.
Some are much harsher after last night’s performance than I am. The Netherlands had enough chances before and after the 33rd minute red card to Bruno Martins Indi not to lose this game. It wasn’t even a question of the Netherlands once again leading in all offensive categories except goals. It was more about a player not slipping as the ball came into the attacking third. Or hanging onto a pass that ended up crossing the sideline. Or not stepping over the ball and being unable too recover. This sort of thing is only supposed to happen once or twice over 90 minutes, not turning into a recurring theme for why the better shots didn’t fall.
Part of that is due to Iceland. Though it’s country rather than club with Iceland already in the top spot and not playing down to anyone, there’s still the obvious gap in resources. The Netherlands have a better collection of players on paper, just like the Dutch clubs did in qualifying for the Champions and Europa Leagues.
Any fair analysis over what’s happening with Dutch soccer can’t avoid that comparison. Sure, Ajax had a run of ridiculous Champions League groups where they lacked the willingness to spend to compete. Fair enough, that’s the game now. But we’re talking about a team that spends considerably more than the clubs that knocked it out of last season’s Europa League and this season’s Champions League.
AZ, again with a stronger lineup than their Romanian opposition, needed second-half goals in the second-leg to see off Astra. That was a round after a tough series with Turkey’s Istanbul BB, the surprise 4th-place finisher in the surprisingly troubled Turkish Super Lig. There aren’t a lot of topflight teams in Europe playing with 2014 on their crest, much less ones also playing in the Europa League.
What this is creating is the need for a resurgence for Dutch soccer. The year after making the semifinals of the World Cup, the Dutch game as a whole is in trouble. To put it another way, even with a collection of international superstars, if this isn’t trouble what is?
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from J Hutcherson: