The Netherlands will start their challenge at Euro 2012 with almost the same team that lost to Spain in the 2010 FIFA World Cup final.
Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst retired after that final and was replaced at leftback by Erik Pieters.
It may only be a coincidence, but the Netherlands’ defensive organization has become one of coach Bert van Marwijk’s main concerns.
Despite a smooth qualifying campaign, the Flying Dutchmen have been exposed defensively, not only in a 3-0 friendly defeat to Germany, but also in a 3-2 win over England in February.
At Wembley, they let slip a two-goal lead in the final phase against an injury-depleted England. They know that they cannot afford such defending during the Euro finals.
Where Van Marwijk’s biggest job two years ago was to keep his squad focused during the whole tournament, now the main target will be surviving the group stage.
The Netherlands cruised through “groups of death” in 2006 and 2008, but faced the threat of an early exit during the first round — now, once again, they have been drawn in the toughest group with Denmark, Germany and Portugal.
Van Marwijk will thus face a challenge in preparing his team to play only “finals” because such a tough and unforgiving group allows no time for recovery from any slips.
The Flying Dutchmen have mixed records against their group opponents.
They beat Denmark at the FIFA World Cup two years ago and they have a positive balance against Germany during Euro finals with two wins, one draw and one defeat.
Portugal, however, have proved a nemesis in the last 10 years. They kept them from the 2002 World Cup, delivered a semi-final exit at Euro 2004 and a last-16 World Cup defeat two years later in a match of four red cards and a dozen bookings.
To balance up their defensive woes, however, they can claim to have some of the best forwards in Europe this season.
Striker Robin van Persie of Arsenal was the English Premier League’s top scorer this season, while Klaas Jan Huntelaar has developed into a goal machine with both Schalke 04 and the Netherlands team.