PARIS: The Dutch fans are ubiquitous at every major football tournament in the world. However, at Euro 2016 the sea of fans dressed in orange will be conspicuous by their absence after their national team failed to make the cut.
It is a phenomena last witnessed in 1984. Since then, the Dutch have been crowned European champions in 1988 besides finishing third in 1992, 2000 and 2004.
The Netherlands are one of the most popular teams in world football, having given the sport concepts like Total Football and stars like Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Edwin van der Sar. With the European Championship expanding to 24 teams from this edition, qualifying for the mega event was supposed to get easier for Europe’s elite.
Still at the end of the qualification period, fans were left stunned as the Netherlands, one of the sport’s powerhouses, failed to seal their berth.
Their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign was nothing short of disastrous. The Dutch finished a dismal fourth in Group A, in spite of being the top-ranked team in the group, as they lost five out of the ten qualifying matches.
A 3-2 defeat at home to the Czech Republic, coupled with Turkey’s 1-0 win over Iceland, proved to be the final nail in the coffin for them as they missed even making it to the play-offs.
The former European champions also surprisingly failed to make it to the FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan in 2002, which eventually forced Louis van Gaal to resign as chief coach.
IN THE WILDERNESS
While the Dutch had themselves to blame for failing to qualify, many star players too will be missed due to injuries or because they were left out of the squad as their managers felt they were surplus to requirements.
The list includes senior players like Andrea Pirlo and Franck Ribery, who were not considered for the tournament despite being the leading lights of the team a few years ago or young stars like Raphael Varane who were unfortunate enough to succumb to injuries that ruled them out of the big event.
Players from Europe dream of participating in the European Championship as the competition is second only to the World Cup and gives them a chance of testing their skills against the best of the continent.
With the Euros happening every four years, some of the stars were looking forward to a memorable swansong. The respective managers had the unenviable task of deciding whether to oblige them.
Like Italy’s Pirlo, who has now retired to the low-key Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States after carrying his country’s hopes for many years. Italy manager Antonio Conte decided to go with youth and left Pirlo out of his squad. There are cases of heartbreak galore. These names will be remembered as the opening day draws closer. They will be missed at the tournament and talked about later too in case their team does not do well.