Another promising start to a European Championship once again ended in defeat, dismay and disappointment for the Netherlands.
Playing in front of a packed crowd of 52,834 at Budapest’s Puskas Arena, the Netherlands’ Euro 2020 journey came to an end, losing 2-0 to the Czech Republic in the round of 16. Two second-half goals by the Czechs, from Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick (his fourth of the tournament), were enough to secure the upset and send the Dutch home early.
Despite cruising through the group stage with three wins out of three, while scoring the most goals (eight), the Netherlands crashed out in the first knockout round, as they were outplayed by an opponent who thoroughly deserved the victory. The Dutch have only advanced from a European Championship knockout match twice since their 1988 triumph and have not done so since 2004.
As Frank de Boer’s side faced a favourable bottom half of the tournament draw, a semi-final run became possible. Instead, another Dutch disaster unfolded, causing further anguish for the famous footballing nation.
Netherlands Shocked in Euro 2020
Setting the Stage
The Netherlands came into Euro 2020 with tempered expectations, particularly because of their heavily criticised manager Frank de Boer, along with the absence of talisman captain Virgil van Dijk due to the injury. However, with all group matches in Amsterdam, along with three relatively easy opponents, the odds were high that the Dutch would play well early in the tournament.
Even with the national hysteria generated from de Boer’s decision to switch the team’s formation from a typical Dutch 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2, the group stage went perfectly. The Netherlands won all three matches, scored eight goals, and put on an attacking show in front of their supporters.
Fantastic performances from Frenkie de Jong, Denzel Dumfries, Daley Blind, Georginio Wijnaldum and Donyell Malen catapulted the Dutch to potential tournament favourites going into the knockout rounds. A generous draw ensued, as the Netherlands avoided a round of 16 tie against Portugal, and instead faced a Czech team that impressed in the group stage but were not at the time considered legitimate contenders. A memorable Euro 2020 appeared in the cards for the Dutch.
An Unfavorable History
However, considering the history between the two sides, perhaps this result should not have been too surprising.
The Netherlands had not beaten the Czech Republic since 2005, including losing twice to them in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. Additionally, in their last major international tournament meeting (Euro 2004), the Czech Republic recovered from a 2-0 first-half deficit to win 3-2, a memorable result for a nation that had become independent only 11 years earlier. In fact, the only time the Dutch defeated the Czechs in a major tournament came in Euro 2000 on home soil, winning 1-0 on an 89th-minute penalty from none other than de Boer himself.
Clearly, even though the Netherlands dominated their first three matches, history was not on their side.
What Went Wrong?
The Dutch started the match on the front foot, with Dumfries and Malen causing havoc and forcing the Czechs to retreat. De Boer’s side pushed for an early goal, but it never came. Dumfries provided a few excellent balls into the box, but no attacker was able to convert. As the first half ended, it was clear the Dutch were becoming frustrated, as the Czechs game plan based on patience and counterattacks began to take shape.
The Netherlands continued to push at the start of the second half, searching for the opening goal that would seize control of the match. In the end, the entire contest boiled down to a minute of madness. As the clock reached the 51st minute, Malen broke into space behind the Czech defence, creating a one-on-one opportunity against goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik. The Dutch forward was unable to convert, spurning a certain goal for the Oranje.
Then, on the ensuing possession, Schick forced defender Matthijs de Ligt out of position and began to race past the Dutchman. De Ligt immediately touched the ball with his hands, preventing Schick from surging past him toward the goal. De Ligt was given a yellow card, but upon VAR review, it was upgraded to a red, after it was deemed the defender used his hand to deny a clear goalscoring opportunity. Without de Ligt and now playing with ten men, the Dutch collapsed.
A Devastating Result
The two Czech goals came after de Ligt’s sending off, as the Dutch players, along with de Boer, appeared shell-shocked. The team lost all confidence and belief, as the Czechs bombarded the Dutch goal, with minimal resistance from the favourites. Eventually, Holes scored on a header in the 68th minute, followed by a Schick goal in the 80th, off an impressive run into the box by Holes, who then squared it to the Bayer Leverkusen forward to put the result beyond doubt.
While this was an incredible victory for the Czech Republic, who now advance to the quarter-finals to play Denmark, this match was mostly about the incompetent performance by the Dutch. At the first sign of the trouble, the team completely capitulated. Any onus to attack was gone, and stars such as Memphis Depay and Wijnaldum disappeared from the action entirely. De Boer also managed the match poorly, deciding to substitute Malen, who was the most threatening player on the team, for an inconsistent Quincy Promes, who had no idea what position he was supposed to play.
Overall, the Dutch appeared lost and confused and ultimately never looked like they would come back into the match. As history suggests, every team that aspires to win major trophies must deal with the adversity of some form in a major tournament (such as Italy on Saturday), but the Netherlands could not handle it. The occasion became too big for them and now, as a result, they are out.
A Promising Future for the Netherlands
In the end, the Dutch missed a glorious opportunity in Euro 2020. A path to the semi-finals was clear, in which they played matches against Ukraine, Austria, North Macedonia, the Czech Republic and (if they had won) Denmark. While the Czechs were a stern test, and the emotional story of the Danes has been compelling, there can be no doubt the Dutch were favoured to reach the final four of the competition. To not even advance beyond the round of 16 is a major disappointment.
However, the future is bright for the Netherlands. Questions will remain over whether de Boer can (and should) lead them past this tournament, with World Cup qualifying resuming in September. It is not clear who will take over if the Dutch FA decides to move on from de Boer. Nevertheless, whoever does lead the team in the future will have high expectations but will also have a very talented group of players.
Van Dijk will return. De Ligt is only 21 and will bounce back. De Jong is already one of the best midfielders in the world. Wijnaldum is 30 but still will play a key role, along with Depay, who just completed a transfer to Barcelona. Dumfries and Malen have caught the world’s attention and will inevitably move from PSV Eindhoven to bigger clubs. There is also 19-year-old Ajax phenom midfielder Ryan Gravenberch, who will make an impact sooner rather than later. Plus, the U21 Dutch squad advanced to the semi-finals of their European Championship tournament earlier this month. In all likelihood, this is just the start of a renewed period of success for the Netherlands, but this wasted Euro 2020 opportunity will sting for years to come.