Ever since I witnessed Holland win their first ever international title in 1988, being a fan of the Oranje has been nothing but heartbreaks and bitter disappointments. With the Oranje not being part of the 24 teams playing this summer in France for the European Championship, let’s revisit their previous disappointments in this tournament since 1988.

  • By Ibrahim Ayyub
  • Follow Ibrahim on Twitter

euro 2004 logo

The Lead-Up:

Fresh from missing the 2002 World Cup, the Oranje made sure to qualify for the 2004 UEFA European Championship. Louis van Gaal was at the helm when the Oranje failed to qualify for the World Cup and stepped down. His successor was Dick Advocaat, who last coached the Oranje ten years prior at the 1994 World Cup, and was not a popular choice among the fans.

Holland qualified for Euro 2004 through the playoffs after finishing second in their group. They battled Czech Republic for first place but came up just short. Their other opponents in the group were Austria, Moldova and Belarus. Holland finished in second place, behind the Czech Republic with the difference being the Czech’s 3-1 victory over the Oranje in the penultimate group match which allowed the Czechs to win their group by just three points.

Therefore, Holland and Scotland would meet in the playoffs. Fears about missing a second consecutive international tournament reared its ugly head after Holland stumbled in the first leg in Scotland with a 1-0 loss. Fortunately, those fears were put to rest following a crushing 6-0 Oranje victory in Holland thanks to a hat-trick from Ruud van Nistelrooy along with goals from Sneijder, Ooijer, and Frank de Boer. It was one hell of a way for the Oranje to punch their ticket to Euro 2004.

Portugal were the hosts for the 2004 edition. Holland were in Group D with the Czech Republic yet again after facing them in the qualifying stages and the Euro 2000 group stage. Their other opponents would be their arch rival, Germany, and Latvia, who were making their first ever international tournament appearance. Group A consisted of hosts Portugal, Spain, Greece and Russia. Group B consisted of defending European Champions France, England, Croatia and Switzerland. Group C consisted of Denmark, Sweden, Bulgaria, and Italy, the team that eliminated Holland in Euro 2000. The Nike kit for that tournament was nice but ruined with the decision of having the shirt number inside a circle, thus resembling billiards balls.

Many players from previous Oranje teams such as Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Michael Reiziger, Jaap Stam, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Phillip Cocu, Edgar Davids, Frank de Boer, Clarence Seedorf, Edwin van der Sar, Boudewijn Zenden, Paul Bosvelt, Roy Makaay, and Pierre van Hooijdonk were still representing the Oranje. However, this tournament would mark the debut of many new Oranje players, with some who still represent the Oranje to this day.

After missing Euro 2000 because of injury and the subsequent failure of not qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, Ruud van Nistelrooy was now going to get his chance to represent the Oranje at the international tournament and be their new scoring threat. The new crop of players making their debut for the Oranje in this tournament were Wilfred Bouma, Andy van der Meyde, Rafael van der Vaart, John Heitinga, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder.

Holland kicked off their Group D with a 1-1 draw against Germany. Torsten Frings scored an early goal for the Germany but van Nistelrooy grabbed a late equalizer to salvage a draw in what was a rather disappointing showing by the Oranje. The Oranje’s next match was against the Czech Republic that saw the Oranje take an early two goal lead courtesy of goals from Bouma and van Nistelrooy after just 19 minutes. However, the Oranje allowed two unanswered goals from Jan Koller and Milan Baros before Vladimir Smicer scored the game winner two minutes from the final whistle.


Oranje fans were outraged by this result and blamed Advocaat for taking off the best player on the pitch that night, Robben, in the 58th minute. Holland never looked the same without Robben and the Oranje suffered a bitter loss while the Czechs celebrated winning the group with this result. Some fans were so outraged that they even bought Advocaat a plane ticket and left it with the front desk of the team’s hotel, so he could fly back to Holland. Even the assistant manager, Willem van Hanegem, when asked about the substitution in a news conference, his response was that if Advocaat tried to make any bad substitutions, “I will beat him down then.” Fortunately, Latvia surprised everyone when they held Germany scoreless and gave the Oranje some hope of making it to the knock out stage.

The final group match would see the Oranje face Latvia while the Czechs would meet the Germans. Germany and Holland had to win their respective matches, and also hope the other stumbles in order to advance. At first, it looked bleak for the Oranje when Michael Ballack gave Germany an early 1-0 lead after 21 minutes. Holland took the lead through a van Nistelrooy penalty in the 27th minute and things began to turn their way when Marek Heinz scored the Czechs’ equalizer. Ruud scored in the 35th minute and substitute Makaay scored in the 84th minute to give Holland a 3-0 lead. Milan Baros helped ensure the Oranje would advance to the knockout stage by scoring the game winning goal and thereby eliminating Germany from Euro 2004.

Holland’s second place finish meant their opponents in the Quarter-Finals would be Sweden. The Czechs would meet Denmark, Portugal would meet England, and defending European Champions France would meet Greece. Holland and Sweden played to a scoreless, and dull, draw which meant one thing; a penalty shootout would have to decide this. Holland had yet to win a penalty shootout and had exited four of their last five tournaments through a shootout.


Fortunately, the Oranje finally ended their penalty jinx with a 5-4 penalty shootout win. Cocu was the fourth penalty taker and the only one to miss for Holland. Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed his shot for Sweden and after Olof Mellberg missed the sixth shot, Robben stepped up and scored the decisive winner. That was one long overdue celebration as Holland finally got that monkey off their back and released a huge sigh of relief. Finally, they had won a penalty shootout. Once again, the Oranje were back in the Semi-Finals of a major tournament and their opponents would be the hosts, Portugal.


The Heartbreak:

Holland v Portugal was perhaps the most forgettable performance by the Oranje at this stage of a tournament. It was not a classic by any means. A young Cristiano Ronaldo gave Portugal the lead in the 26th minute when he was left unmarked to head in Deco’s corner kick for the opening goal. Holland almost struck back immediately when a minute later, Overmars struck a volley narrowly over the crossbar from a tight angle inside the box. That was the only chance Holland would see in that half as Portugal caused two big scares with van der Saar making an amazing stop to deny Pauleta from close range in the 35th minute and a few minutes later, Luis Figo’s effort struck the post.

Advocaat took off Overmars for Makaay at the start of the second half. However, Portugal came close to scoring a second in the 54th minute, when Pauleta was one-on-one with van der Sar at the edge of the box. Fortunately the veteran goalkeeper stopped Pauleta’s effort with his legs. Advocaat made his second substitution by taking off Bouma and bringing in van der Vaart in the 56th minute.

Sadly, any hopes of Holland getting back into the game were dashed after Maniche scored an amazing thunderous goal in the 58th minute to double Portugal’s lead. A Jorge Andrade own goal in the 63rd minute, when he flicked van Bronckhorst’s cross over his goalkeeper Ricardo, restored some hope. Holland’s final substitution was van Hooijdonk for Robben in the 81st minute. Holland’s other best chance of the half was a free kick whipped in by Seedorf that fell to the far post of Ricardo’s goal but sadly van Nistelrooy tripped over his own feet and failed to react in time to volley the ball on target.

The final whistle blew and Holland came up short yet again in a Semi-Finals. It was a dreadful performance with only five shots on goal and only one on target. Portugal did a superb job in stifling the Oranje but the Oranje also came out flat and lacked any sort of creativity. Overall, this team provided us with more frustration than joy during Euro 2004. The few positives was that some of the younger players gave us hope for a bright future for the Oranje, and that the penalty jinx had finally come to an end.

The Aftermath:

Greece surprised the world when they eliminated France and then the favored Czechs to reach the final before pulling off one last surprise by defeating Portugal in the Final. This tournament was the end for some of the Oranje legends. Although Kluivert was called up, he never got to play for Holland in this tournament and would not feature for Holland again at major tournament. His Oranje career ended with him by being the all-time Dutch scorer with 40 goals until that record would be surpassed in 2013 by Robin van Persie.

Overmars would retire from football altogether after this tournament, with a brief return in 2008 to play for Go Ahead Eagles for one season. Meanwhile, most of the old guard, excluding Cocu, van Bronckhorst and van der Sar, would not represent the Oranje in the World Cup two years later. Reiziger, Stam, Davids, de Boer, Seedorf, Zenden, Bosvelt, Makaay, and van Hooijdonk had played their final Oranje tournament. Young star van der Meyde would not represent the Oranje in another tournament, unlike his Ajax alums Sneijder and van der Vaart.

Fortunately, Dick Advocaat was not going to manage the Oranje in their World Cup qualifiers. That responsibility fell upon Oranje legend, Marco van Basten. There was hope that he could guide the Oranje to success while possessing the dangerous scorer in van Nistelrooy along with the revelation of the tournament, Robben, and the rising stars Sneijder and van der Vaart.

Ibrahim Ayyub (24 Posts)