Netherlands gave another firm flex of their international muscle last night, smashing Northern Ireland for six in a fine-tuning performance ahead of next week’s European Championships.
Much maligned for their effort in the World Cup final against Spain in 2010, it’s easy to forget how good the Dutch looked in South Africa before changing their tactics drastically to try and nullify the threat of Vicente Del Bosque’s side.
It nearly worked.
However, failure brought with it criticism, and the rough-house tactics of Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel were not well received by the football public.
Both players remain in Bert Van Merwijk’s plans though, and the defensive-minded duo appear set to feature once again in a major tournament with Euro 2012 now less than a week away.
In their final friendly, Holland set out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, Ibrahim Afellay and Wesley Sneijder taking the four forward-thinking positions in the line-up. It’s certainly a quadrant of players that can compare with anything Spain currently put on the pitch.
With De Jong and Van Bommel sitting, it gives all of them the chance to make an impact at the top end of the pitch, which is certainly where they’ll be looking to do most damage in Group B alongside Denmark, Portugal and Germany.
True, Michael O’Neill’s inexperienced side offered little in the way of resistance, but the Dutch did exactly what they needed to do in a final statement of intent as the world’s number two side.
It was Arsenal striker Van Persie who did the damage with two goals and two assists, opening the scoring with a far post header on 11 minutes from a well worked corner.
Set-pieces were of the highest order for Holland once again, and expect that to be a feature of their potential success in Poland and Ukraine in the coming month.
Four minutes later, Sneijder doubled the lead with a free-kick from 25 yards, beating Lee Camp with a fine effort to give fans an indication of where this game would be heading.
‘RVP’ made it three from the penalty spot after a controversial hand ball decision went against Shane Ferguson, and then Afellay fired in off the post after Robben found the Barcelona-man on the overlap.
4-0 at half-time, it would become five on 51 minutes when Van Persie found Afellay with a lay-off from Robben’s cross, and he curled the ball home.
A number of changes followed, with a brief period of rest-bite for the visitors, but defender Ron Vlaar added the gloss to the scoreline with a powerful header from another corner.
After beating England at Wembley back in February, the Dutch proceeded to lose against Bulgaria a week ago. However, with Van Marwijk bringing his first-team players back to the fore, Holland now appear well set for tournament football after wins against Slovakia and Northern Ireland.
It’s Denmark next, on June 9th. They are a side not to be under-estimated.
After losing to Brazil in a friendly last week, they beat Australia 2-0 on Saturday night in a morale boosting victory going into the opener in the competition’s hardest group on paper at least.
Christian Eriksen is their star man, although it was Daniel Agger from the penalty spot and Andreas Bjelland who made the difference against the Socceroos.