Opinion: Arrogance tulips

POSTED: 06/11/12 1:07 PM

The Dutch did it again: the national soccer team went to the European championship in the Ukraine with one thought in mind: making it to the final. Unless the team manages to beat Germany on Wednesday two words will be enough to respond to that lofty idea: forget it.

All this because the team lost on Saturday to the team it thought would cause them the least trouble: Denmark.

The Danes have something the Dutch sorely miss – a mentality forged of steel. Even the Danish newspapers seemed amazed that their team had managed to beat the mighty Dutch. Sneijder, Van Persie, Afellay, Kuijt, Huntelaar, Van der Vaart. The Danish press described them as “a start studded bouquet of Dutch tulips.” And then the stars wilted at the hands of Demark coach Olsen’s master plan.

It’s not that the Dutch were not warned. In 1992 Denmark did not even qualify for the
European championship, but it got a ticket anyway because the Uefa disqualified Yugoslavia (as part of international sanctions for the Balkan wars). The Danes got notice ten days before the tournament started, left Germany and France behind them in the group stage, beat the defending champion Netherlands on penalties in the semi finals and grabbed the title by defeating then reigning world champion Germany 2-0 in the final. This time, Denmark qualified outright and was therefore well prepared.

Oh sure, the Dutch were superior during the first quarter of the first half, but after Denmark scored out of the blue, the star studded bouquet remained clueless for the rest of the match.

We had to think about a remark Alexander Rinnooy Kan once made about the Dutch mentality: “We are not the champions but still we play the best soccer in Europe.” He made the remark in the nineties when he was chairman of the employers association VNO and he used it describe the lame mentality of the labor force. Rinnooy Kan now chairs the Social Economic Council. The Volkskrant named him the most influential man in the Netherlands in three consecutive years starting in 2007. In other words: this is somebody people ought to pay attention to.

But his words must have been lost on the national soccer team. One Danish newspaper probably hit the nail on the head when it wrote that the squad “is made up of “arrogance tulips.”

Such language was nowhere to be found in the national press in the Netherlands. The Telegraaf whined that the referee had withheld two penalties, while the Volkskrant wrote about “hope” for the team, noting that it started the 1988 tournament also with a loss and that it ended up taking the title.

Yeah, that was in 1988. Before and after that year the national squad has a checkered and somewhat remarkable record. The Greeks have a nice expression for it: the Dutch go to the source often, but they never drink. That refers to the by now three lost finals in the World Cup (1974, 1978 and 2010).

Ah well, it’s only a game and by Wednesday we’ll know whether the team that literally waltzed through the qualification for this tournament (in itself unique in the team’s history) still has any chances of progressing from the group stage. We wouldn’t bet on it, even though the odds are probably attractive for gamblers with money to burn.

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