With two early favorites to exit their groups now planning their summer vacations INSTEAD of continuing on in the Euro’s, we have to ask: Who is to blame for these two teams making early exits?
Russia must have looked at their group before the beginning of this tournament and had a small celebration. Greece, Poland, and the Czech Republic would have seemed like a group ready to be picked apart by the Russians. They probably had already had team meetings and developed strategies to play against some of the teams in Group B for their “eventual” meetings in the quarter-finals. Instead, they watched Greece take advantage of the “head-to-head” rule and saw them advance at the cost of their Euro future. How did this happen? A team that has a player (currently) tied for the top scorer and a player (once again, as of the writing of this article) tied for the most assists in the Euro’s both probably boarding a plane right now…where did it all go wrong?
The Russians opened this tournament and murmurs quickly started to spread that they should actually be one of the favorites of the tournament. A 4-1 mauling of the Czech Republic, the team considered to be the strongest opposition for the Russians, caused many to predict a quick qualification for the Russians. With fixtures against Greece and Poland looming, it seemed that Russia could coast into the quarterfinals. Two matches later and Russia now finds themselves on the outs in Euro 2012.
The draw against Poland was not the end for the Russians, and although I may be giving them too easy of a pass on that game, I don’t believe the Poland game was their undoing. Russia has never been a team to have back to back “good” games, and I had not expected that pattern to change against Poland. So, they entered the game against the Greeks with a very achievable goal- either draw or win in order to go through. For 90 minutes the Russians pressed and pressed and pressed and pressed…and, 90 minutes later, they had nothing to show for it. The midfield looks bereft of creative ideas throughout. Then, in the 45th minute, Giorgos Karagounis made the Russian task more difficult, albeit more straightforward. The Russians had to score or they would be leaving the Euro’s with nothing to show for it.
45 minutes followed with Russia seeming to take a multitude of shots from 30-35 yards. Every attack seemed to be an attempt to shove a passing move right down the middle of the defense, with little to no avail. Russia would end the game with 5 times more shots on goal and 5 times more total shots than the Greeks, but it wasn’t until late in the game that Russia actually seemed to truly threaten. A few late crosses would put fear into the hearts of Greek fans and hope into the Russian ranks, but it was too little too late. After watching the game several times (we do our homework here at SR), you can see Russia lining up many times with 3 and sometimes even 4 players in the box in perfect positions to receive a cross. However, very few crosses were even attempted and the ones that did happen (I’m looking at you Zhrikov) were terrible.
It should be noted, Russia were lucky to not be two goals down after a mis-called penalty claim and they might have even been down to ten-men if that decision had gone the other way. They seemed to be shooting for the top rows in the stadium instead of aiming for the back of the net. Every Russian player that was allowed space when they were in “Ronaldo-range” (35-40 yards) tried their luck. Most of those shots either ricocheted to safety or Michail Sifakis was easily able to claim. Their midfield and defense ending up taking a total of FIFTEEN shots on the night with the FWD’s only having 3 total shots on target.
There truly is no excuse Russia can have for their exit. Most of their team plays together in Russia throughout the club season and they have a good mixture of youth and experience that seems necessary to succeed on the international level. I will be anxious to see where Arshavin and Dzagoev end up once the Euro’s are over, but this has to be seen as an opportunity missed for the Russians.
The Dutch exit is very different. Their group seeding would not have been any cause for celebration BUT they had been one of the most impressive teams in their qualifying campaign. Although their entry into the “group of death” would have had most teams shaking in their boots, the Netherlands were already being talked about as one of the contenders for the Euro crown. Three matches later and the Dutch had zero points, had managed only 2 goals, and had allowed one of the best players in the world to finish off a few almost tap-ins. Unlike Russia, the Dutch had only one player in the “stat leaderboards,” and that was their keeper, Stekelenburg, who (at the time of this article) had made the most saves in the tournament. A stat that speaks volumes to one of the two biggest ailments that saw the Oranje heading home.
We’ll start with their absolutely porous defense. 5 goals allowed through three games and the defense never looked like a group that would be fielded by a team that should have the caliber of the Dutch. Factor in the fact that the Netherlands fielded two defensive midfielders in the first two games (De Jong and Van Bommel) and it becomes even more confusing. I felt that their performances were poor in the first two matches, but Portugal truly made them look second-rate. After Van Der Vaart scored in the 11th minute, the Portuguese started to twist the Dutch defenders all over the pitch. In a game where a goal from the Netherlands should have created a sense of panic for the Portugal players, it seemed to create the opposite. Ronaldo probably felt like he could have scored 10 against them…(he even looked like he could have scored that many).
Sure, the Dutch ran into Daniel Agger in one of his greatest three match stretches of his career. Yeah, they played against a German team that seems to be winning with no real effort given and a striker in Mario Gomez that seems to score with every touch. True, they ran into Cristiano Ronaldo on a day where he decided to silence the international “haters.” Still, these are the World Cup runners-up. A team that scored whenever they wanted in qualifying. A team that has massive individual talent across the entirety of the pitch and with a bench that could smash most international starting 11′s.
The second problem for the Dutch (minus possible in-fighting, which I think is a sorry excuse) was their inability to put the ball in the back of the net. With the season Robin Van Persie had for Arsenal, you would have expecting his form to continue in the same vein. Names like Sneijder and Robben lining up beside him and players like Van Der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar coming off the bench, the absolute LAST thing you would have thought would be a problem for the Oranje would be putting the ball in the back of the net. To be honest, even Van Persie’s goal against Germany seemed to be more from Germany starting to play like the game had already been won than from any great play from the Netherlands.
There did seem to be some issues within the ranks of the Dutch squad, although the only true proof we have was Robben’s attitude after his substitution against the Germans and a few gestures after failed attacking moves. A team of players that are of that caliber, I feel that “not getting along with your mates” is one of the sorriest excuses that you could use. Even I can erase old grudges and quell old qualms for 90 minutes…and I don’t get paid millions and millions of dollars and I don’t get the honor of playing for my national squad. At the end of the day, the Dutch got outclassed in every game they played. Whether they admit that or not could cause the type of issues that we may see again in Brazil in two years.
The discussions will probably continue until the World Cup for both of these squads, although I’m sure the Netherlands will be under much more scrutiny. What did you see from the Russians and the Dutch that caused their early demise? Was this just a result of crazy tournament play or will we see similar issues crop up in Brazil ’14? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.