Dreadful and disappointing are two polite words that could be used to describe another pitiful performance under clueless manager Danny Blind. How poor were the Netherlands to lose a game against an opponent who conceded three against Luxembourg with players from clubs such as Manchester United and Bayern Munich?

  • By Michael Statham
  • Follow Michael on Twitter @EredivisieMike

The signs of yet another national team nightmare began before kick-off, when Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax’s freshest face from their academy, was named to start the crucial qualifier. Why the 17-year-old flew to Eastern Europe in the first place was a shock, let alone the fact he was dropped into the deep end, next to players he has only known for a matter of days in training.

De Ligt didn’t deserve the baptism of fire he received, as he made two awful mistakes to gift Bulgaria their two-goal lead. Firstly, he failed to win a drifted long ball in the penalty area, then stood off Spas Delev for the Bulgarian’s second.

Not that Jeroen Zoet was any less culpable than Danny Blind in offering his centre-back any sort of confidence. The PSV goalkeeper was cocky and almost idiotic in the way he played around with the high-pressing Bulgarian forwards. Instead of simply clearing the ball out of danger, Zoet seemingly enjoyed how close he could get away with risky passes and last minute shoulder drops.

The distribution from the back to the strikers wasn’t great either. Aimless long-balls were thrown towards Primeira Liga top scorer Bas Dost, who displayed a total lack of quality on the ball. To be fair to the big striker, he was suffocated by a total lack of support. There were limited runs off the ball by the Dost’s ‘fellow’ forwards and a lack of creativity from midfield.

Full-backs Rick Karsdorp and Daley Blind both endured frustrating evenings. Karsdorp built few forward movements with Robben and appeared irritated through the entire match. Meanwhile indifferent Daley Blind gave no threat down the left-wing and showed no class that he should possess playing for Manchester United.

The only man that can come out of tonight having had a decent personal performance was Bruno Martins-Indi. The centre-back was the only commanding figure out there, and was rarely at fault as he sensed danger when it arrived and won headers for his team.

However, it matters little that the former Feyenoord defender played without former teammate Stefan de Vrij, as the majority of Oranje’s issues came in how the ball was used.

Despite once again holding a sweepstake in possession in this match, the Dutch players had few ideas as for what to do with the football.

Once again, Blind’s decisions must be questioned, as although the midfield trio of Georginio Wijnaldum, Kevin Strootman and Davy Klaassen seems the best on paper, there is not much assertion nor creativity between them.

Roma midfielder Strootman was clearly out of position and far too casual on the ball, conceding possession on far too many occasions. What the Netherlands need is a defensive wall à la Nigel de Jong who can break down play and deliver instructions to his teammates. Strootman needs to play with a more defensive-minded player, to bring out the best in himself.

The Netherlands were not helped out either by the nightmare display shown by Ajax captain Klaassen. The 24-year-old played like he was suffering from a Sunday morning hangover. Klaassen’s passing and positioning were poor and despite having the one good chance saved in the second half, did not give out the type of performance we are used to seeing every week for Ajax.

Furthermore, Liverpool’s Wijnaldum was pretty anonymous in what was a torrid first half for the Dutch. Hence why the attacking midfielder, who played deeper than usual, was plugged at half-time.

The other substitution at the break was certainly a puzzling one upon reflection. Blind decided that it was appropriate to haul off the already distraught de Ligt, even though his side required three goals in the second half from a misfiring front-line.

Substitute Wesley Hoedt, in fine form for Lazio, confidently sprayed plenty of balls around. However, yet again, all the play was in front of Bulgaria. It was so predictable in fact, that whilst in possession, camera footage often switched to pictures of the crowd, such was the ineffective nature of the Dutch play.

The second half was a shade better as quicker balls were played, but Bulgaria could still afford to nonchalantly wipe noses and pull up socks as they jogged side-to-side in their defensive 4-4-2 set-up.

Quincy Promes was the most likely player to offer penetration, but that’s not saying much. Still, it was a surprise when the winger was taken off for a second lanky striker in Luuk de Jong – out of form at club level.

De Jong and Dost were then tasked with winning aerial duels to knock on for their paceless strike partner and ageing Robben and Sneijder (out of position on the left).

Sneijder should have offered a glimmer of hope for the Dutch upon his introduction, but looked almost disinterested without a spark as he blasted over twice, turned away at goal-kicks and even began to lose temper close to the end.

Fellow stalwart Robben was also woeful all game. Not once did the winger show his trademark inverted run and shot in order to offer an outlet for the team. For a captain, he again illustrated the total lack of confidence that the Dutch have in the inevitably departing Blind.

Let’s not forget the unfortunate travelling fans that have made the effort to get to Bulgaria for the match. Blind’s men gave them nothing in return for their travails.

There were no guts, no shouting and Blind has no clue. De Ligt’s confidence will need to heal but the wounds left on the Netherlands’ World Cup campaign already look fatal.

Blind must take responsibility for his call-ups, his tactical blunders and deploying his players out-of-position.

“Danny, bedankt” (Danny, thanks) was what the travelling fans sang tonight.




Michael Statham (432 Posts)

Writer/interviewer/YouTuber for Football-Oranje. Massive Dutch football fan from the UK. Follow me @EredivisieMike & subscribe to Football-Oranje on YouTube.