Unprofessional Foul


June 24, 2008

Euro Eulogy: The Netherlands

Joep Smeets has rejoined us once more, although this time, his prose is decidedly more maudlin, thanks to the manner in which Russia dismantled the Oranje this past weekend.

Joep, the floor is yours. Just limit the tears, please.

I am entirely too disappointed right now to search for the humidity level in Basel for last night, but it must have been one-of-a-kind. For this was no ordinary humidity; not only was it high enough to completely slow down the Dutch, it also appeared to have no apparent effect on the Russians whatsoever. Holland looked slow, uninterested and all around rather lethargic. Russia, on the other hand, kept up an amazing pace for not just 90, but 120 minutes.

We Dutch are at a loss for words. It is not as if we haven’t been eliminated before. We’ve gotten used to the feeling over time. But what we’re not used to is the enormous yawning void that comes with being eliminated and having absolutely no one to blame but yourself.

Last tournament, it was those dirty Portuguese, the one before that it was our idiot coach, who we were quick to renounce as one of our own – and thusly, not blaming ourselves – after substituting the best player on the field for an old has-been who was to mark Nedved. I’m no English native speaker, but I always thought that the word “marking” meant that you had to be able to at the very least keep up with a player to do so. Which didn’t happen.

In 2002 we weren’t there, but we had put the blame of the failure to qualify firmly on the shoulders of the unlikable Louis van Gaal, so no problem there then.

I could go on for a while like this, but I’d rather not mention the debacle that was the Euro 2000 semis, when we missed five (five!!!) penalties in front of a home crowd.

This year there is no-one to blame. The last time that happened was 1998, and we comforted ourselves rather successfully with the thought that we had played pretty football, and because goals are such an arbitrary manner with which to decide who is the better team, we didn’t hesitate for one second to claim the moral victory, which we could live with.

It may not have gotten us any silverware, but silverware is for the flashy, and the most common saying in Holland isn’t “doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg”, which roughly translates to “just act low-key, that’s crazy enough as it is”, so we could do without crass trash like trophies.

We briefly considered a couple of candidates; the referee, naturally, because that is every football fan’s first gut reaction.

We could bitch about the absolutely shocking decision not to send off that Russian defender – and we will, believe me, at great length – towards the end of the game, because the charge he made on Sneijder had occurred after the ball had crossed the backline.

This decision, which effectively rules any contact between players when the ball is out of play to be fair game, is the only measly thing we can think of to vindicate us.

Unfortunately for us, it isn’t even enough to claim a moral victory.

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