NEXT year’s European Championship finals in France have been enlarged from 16 teams to 24 but there is still no place for the dismal Dutch.
The 1988 European champion and three-time World Cup finalists completed a catastrophic qualification campaign on Tuesday with a humiliating 3-2 defeat in Amsterdam to the 10-man Czech Republic.
And rubbing salt into that wound, neighbours and perennial rivals Belgium moved top of the Fifa rankings and qualified as the Group B winners with a 3-1 victory over Israel.
“Let’s be chauvinists today,” Belgium captain Vincent Kompany said. “The Dutch have crashed out and we’re No 1. Let’s just be proud.”
While Belgium stars like Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are heading to France next summer, Dutch greats like Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder will be staying at home.
“In the end, the disappointment is in the whole qualification campaign,” Dutch coach Danny Blind said. “We have not been good enough.” It was a stunning admission in a nation where teenagers have emerged as future stars with every World Cup or European campaign since the 1970s – from Johan Cruyff to Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp and Van Persie. Look around and there are no worthy successors.
It made for a spectacular fall from grace for the Netherlands, who opened last year’s World Cup in Brazil with a dazzling 5-1 defeat of reigning world and European champion Spain and went on to reach the semi-finals, where Argentina needed a penalty shoot-out to prevail.
In Group A, the architects of Total Football failed totally.
“It is a collective failure,” midfielder Wesley Sneijder said.
It was the first time since the 2002 World Cup that the Netherlands had failed to qualify for a major tournament and the first European Championship since 1984 the Dutch have missed. While teams like Albania, Wales and Northern Ireland made it to the tournament in France, the Netherlands will watch it on TV.
The great hope for the future – Manchester United winger Memphis Depay has only three goals in 21 internationals. Blind, who replaced Guus Hiddink with four qualifiers to go and lost three of them, said the country simply does not have enough quality players to make wholesale changes. He said that a lengthy injury list was a key element in the failed campaign.
“We missed 12-15 players,” he said. “We are not Germany or Spain, we are the Netherlands and it’s hard to cope with that.”
The bad news for the Dutch is that their qualification group for the 2018 World Cup looks even tougher – featuring France and Sweden as well as Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg.