Science - June 29, 2006

In the news / Dutch defeat in World Cup

Last Sunday evening Holland’s part in the World Cup came to an abrupt and sensational end in the match against Portugal. While national manager Marco van Basten sat with a straight face on the sidelines as his team got seven yellow cards and two red, the Dutch ‘orange fever’ died an early death. Wageningen football fans Suz and Bjurn looked back a day later.

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‘See, if we had lost against Brazil, at least we could have said we had lost to a great team. But what happened on Sunday is difficult to swallow.’ Bjurn Snel shakes his head as he rolls his first cigarette of the day over a mug of black coffee. The orange shrine of T-shirts, caps and World Cup footballs that hung above the TV in the Droevendaal kitchen has already been packed up, and the cardboard box is now sitting forlornly next to him on the sofa. With a faint smile he takes out the ‘bible’, the World Cup scrapbook. Looking through it he sighs, ‘It was an emotional match, yes it really got me going.’

‘At a certain point he went quiet, very quiet,’ recalls his housemate, Suz van der Wielen. Suz is not so hot on tactics, but focuses on football styles and team cultures. ‘Did Holland just play badly? That’s a closed question.’ Suz is a psychology student. She’s lived for years among the green Wageningen students in Droevendaal and regards herself as the human element amid all the technical football analysts. Like Bjurn, she watched every single match that Holland played in the World Cup. ‘You have to look at how a team functions – the Dutch team functioned really well, and they have a lovely coach. But of course you come up against other cultures on the football pitch, hard cultures that play dirty, I don’t like that. There are also cultures that just play on regardless, wiping the tears off their faces, and others that just lose heart.’

‘Holland has a really young team this year, and that was noticeable,’ Bjurn continues his post-mortem. ‘Van Basten did his best, but they still lack experience. For some of the players it was their first World Cup and the Portuguese knew exactly how to get our team wound up so that they lost their concentration. Yes, and the referee, what do I think about him? I thought he was very unprofessional. He should have had a much tighter grip on things, and done less talking. When Heitinga was brought down by Deco he wasted time listening to everyone’s story to see if he could hand out even more yellow cards. That meant lots of lost time that was not made up for with extra time at the end.’

Bjurn is also of the opinion that Holland needed a third striker. ‘There are probably lots of people who don’t agree with me, but I’m thinking of Kluivert or someone like that. Still, I’m just one of the sixteen million national coaches in Holland at the moment,’ he says on reflection.

In the meantime a third football fan has joined the discussion, Bas van Barneveld. As he makes his sandwiches, he peppers the conversation with football names, tactics and strategies. ‘Yeah, of course I’m only one of the sixteen million coaches as well, but if you ask me the Dutch are just no good at headers,’ he concludes his monologue.

As she continues her reflection, Suz mentions that she is struck by the silence that reigns around the defeat this year. Van Basten showed little emotion, there have been few discussions in the aftermath on TV and the Dutch fans are above all subdued. They don’t seem to be very resilient this year; you really notice that they are stunned that they did not get further. ‘You can say that again,’ rejoins Bjurn, ‘If you think how well they did in a difficult selection round, you’d have expected a better performance from Holland. Of course you get subdued when there’s so little football and so many cards being handed out. The euphoria dies very quickly. Oh well, the qualifying rounds for the European Championships start in September.’

Martijn Vink

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