The Netherlands’ players hinted that their Euro 2012 campaign had been undermined by dressing-room disunity after their participation in the tournament ended with a 2-1 loss to Portugal.
A team that arrived at the competition as one of the favorites after finishing runners-up at the 2010 World Cup and plundering 37 goals in qualifying traveled home dejected following three consecutive defeats.
The draw that placed the Netherlands in the finely balanced Group B was not kind, but no one could have predicted the tame losses to Denmark, Germany and Portugal that followed.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the axeman in their final game on Sunday, scoring twice to cancel out Rafael van der Vaart’s opener in Kharkiv and leaving Bert van Marwijk’s side rooted to the foot of the table, without a point to their name.
However, the cracks had appeared earlier, with outbursts from several players hinting at discord among a national squad with a historical reputation for feuding and in-fighting.
Van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar both complained about being left out of the starting lineup, while Arjen Robben reacted petulantly to his substitution during the 1-0 loss to Germany.
Asked to provide explanations for his team’s struggles after the defeat by Portugal, Robben appeared at a loss.
“We lost three times. It’s a difficult thing to accept,” the Bayern Munich winger said. “We have to dare to look at ourselves in the mirror — we all failed. It’s hard to find explanations. Sometimes things are impossible to explain. In the match [against Portugal], we started the match well, but we quickly forgot to keep developing our play.”
Tellingly, he conceded that, behind the scenes, all had not been well.
“Things happened in the squad, but we’ll keep that between us,” he said.
The Netherlands’ unexpected failure will inevitably prompt scrutiny of national coach Van Marwijk, who extended his contract until 2016 last year.
The man who led the Oranje to the last World Cup final seemed incapable of reacting to the setbacks that assailed them in Poland and Ukraine, as the Netherlands fell at the first stage of a Euro for the first time since 1980.
Captain Mark van Bommel — Van Marwijk’s son-in-law — said the coach’s choices were “questionable,” but Wesley Sneijder still believes he is the right man for the job.
“Should we continue with Bert van Marwijk? Why not? I say yes,” said the Inter playmaker, who was moved to the left flank against Portugal to accommodate Huntelaar at the tip of the attack.
“Two years ago, at the World Cup, it worked very well. This time, no, but I still think he has a clear future in charge of the Oranje,” Sneijder said. “He has demonstrated his qualities by resolving internal problems in the right way.”
In his post-match press conference, Van Marwijk said the issue was not up for discussion.
Van der Vaart, who captained the team against Portugal on his 99th appearance, was unable to disguise his disgust at the team’s premature exit from the competition.
“It’s very simple — we weren’t good enough,” he said. “We lose three times and everything stops. What we’ve shown was very, very poor.”
“We definitely started [against Portugal] with lots of speed — that was the objective — but then, afterwards, everything stopped.It got worse and worse, and our opponents were better,” he said.