As recently as 2010 Bert van Marwijk’s side were praised for their attacking football before fatally turning to more brutal tactics against Spain in Johannesburg as their dream of being crowned world champions faded right at the last.
Even then, van Marwijk had his critics — especially those who valued the principles of ‘total football’ above the more pragmatic approach of a coach who was clearly attempting to alter the Dutch football psyche.
But even his most vociferous opponents could not have predicted the Netherlands would arrive at Euro 2012, having being one of the most impressive teams in qualifying, and implode to such an extent that they now need a minor miracle to even make it through the group stages.
The 2-1 defeat to Germany on Wednesday, following on from a 1-0 reverse against Denmark, leaves them needing to beat Portugal by at least two goals and hope the Danes lose to Germany on Sunday if they are to reach the quarter-finals.
It’s a miserable situation, made all the worse by constant reports of in-fighting, jealousy and divisive cliques forming in the squad as the team’s stability is rapidly unpicked.
Now midfielder Sneijder has admitted it isn’t good enough.
“I apologise to everyone for everything,” he said. “This is very hard. We didn’t see this coming. There is a real sense that we let the Germans win. We have now lost twice, which isn’t good enough; but we still have a chance. We need to keep believing in it. I actually thought we were out. I hadn’t thought much about the scenario as it stands. I realise that if we beat Portugal, we still have a chance. We need to go for it.”
So far Dutch players have refused to go into detail about the rifts in the squad that have left team spirit at such a low; but van Marwijk’s insistence on picking his son-in-law Mark van Bommel and his determination to leave the likes of Rafael van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on the bench are at the root of it all.
Even Dirk Kuyt, the most diplomatic of all Dutchman, hinted at problems after Wednesday’s frustrating defeat.
He said: “What are the reasons? Well I think we are in a difficult group, that’s the first thing. I think against Denmark we played a good game and created a lot of chances and didn’t score. That can happen once in a while.
“But this was different. We started well for 20 minutes but as soon as we conceded the first goal we lost our spirit.
“Now we have to sit together and see what’s going wrong; because two years ago we were in the final of the World Cup. Everyone knows this team has quality; so we have to get together to change things.”
Kuyt clearly chose his words carefully, but you have to worry for the Netherlands the way things are turning out. Changing things may be possible; but getting together? That is going to be biggest ask of all...