Holland struggle without Robben and van Gaal
CZECH REPUBLIC 2
(Borek Dockal 22, Vaclav Pilar 90+1)
(Stefan de Vrij 55)
Two men essentially guided Holland to the World Cup semi-finals. They were conspicuous by their absence yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Louis van Gaal and Arjen Robben are men of risk and resourcefulness.
Without them, the Dutch are timid and dull.
Holland's unexpected 2-1 defeat by the Czech Republic in Prague offered a telling reminder that van Gaal might just be the perfect man for the Manchester United job after all.
It's not his prestigious resume that could count, but his more recent ability of making a little go a long way.
Holland hinted in Brazil that their progress and performances were greater than the sum of their individual parts.
Robin van Persie's wonder goal, Robben's inventive running and van Gaal's swashbuckling substitutions overcompensated for a squad largely lacking in creative impetus.
Robben's minor injury deprived the Dutch of their familiar route to goal yesterday morning, so new coach Guus Hiddink opted for a disastrous change in formation. His tactics delivered fireworks only in the sense that they backfired spectacularly.
In charge of his national side for a second time, Hiddink realised that he was light in the artistry department, so he stuffed his line-up with labourers.
It was like watching a conductor replace his best solo violin with a handful of clinking, clunking triangle players.
Five defenders - including a neglected Daley Blind at left back who will surely not be similarly wasted at van Gaal's United - paid far too much respect to the Czech Republic's lone striker David Lafata, a defensive sledgehammer to swat a fly.
Hiddink's 5-3-2 formation was essentially a hall pass for the Czech's creative midfielders, granting them the freedom of the final third to gobble up vast tracts of land like a greedy property developer.
Consider the Czechs' opening goal in the 22nd minute. With the Dutch defence drawn to lone predator Lafata, the striker laid off neatly to the excellent Borek Dockal.
Nipping between the lines, he had enough time and space to smash a drive past Jasper Cillessen. Holland were all over the place.
When he succeeded van Gaal as coach, Hiddink insisted that the days of 5-3-2 were done, as if promising to live up to a pre-election mandate of delivering positive football.
But the premise is flawed.
First, van Gaal's Holland bore closer resemblance to 3-5-2, with the likes of Blind ordered to bomb past Wesley Sneijder at every opportunity.
And second, van Gaal is not a slave to a particular system, but rather a pragmatist managing the resources at his disposal (admittedly, his insistence on a back three at United challenges this theory).
In Brazil, Holland lacked the midfield finesse and unfussy control to rival Toni Kroos, Javier Mascherano or perhaps even Paul Pogba in his better games.
So van Gaal literally sidestepped the problem, using the pace of overlapping wingbacks to feed Robben or van Persie directly.
With a splash of penalty shootout good fortune and van Gaal's Svengali-like approach to substitutions, the Dutch made it further than perhaps their individual talents merited.
Hiddink needed only a friendly defeat by Italy last week to realise what his predecessor worked out on the training ground long ago.
Holland are heavy on automatons, but light on artists. Without Robben's brilliance, they are surprisingly bland.
So Hiddink played the odds and plumped for five at the back. He bungled the bluff.
Holland practically put down beach towels for their opponents and invited them over for a refreshing dip in the penalty box.
Sneijder, Nigel de Jong and Georginio Wijnaldum were overwhelmed, constantly chasing the men making mischief over their shoulders, leaving the isolated van Persie and Memphis Depay to shoot the breeze - but nothing else - at the other end.
Two deserving defeats inside a week reflect two tentative outings. Morale is slipping away from the World Cup's over-achievers.
Hiddink said he was "livid" over the defeat, but fingers will be pointed closer to home if this continues.
After jumping on the cash cows of Russia, Turkey and Anzhi Makhachkala with decidedly mixed results, Hiddink returns to Holland with his halo just about intact. But it no longer illuminates with the same sense of awe.
His safety-first approach will hardly endear himself to the Dutch.
After van Gaal's exhilarating roller-coaster of a World Cup campaign, this dreadful display feels like the ride has come to a crashing halt already.
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Hiddink: we gave it away stupidly
YOUR FAULT: Guus Hiddink (inset) blames Daryl Janmaat (No. 2) for his mistake which leads to the Czech Republic’s late winner. PHOTOS: REUTERS
It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially since they lost it in the dying seconds of the match.
Guus Hiddink, in his second stint as Holland coach, blew his top after watching his side crash to a 2-1 stoppage-time defeat by the Czech Republic in their Euro 2016 Group A qualifier yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Borek Dockal had put the Czechs ahead midway through the first half, but a 55th-minute equaliser from Stefan de Vrij looked set to give Holland a share of the spoils in Prague.
Or so they thought. Hiddink's men conceded in second-half injury time in calamitous fashion, when substitute Vaclav Pilar tapped into an empty net after Daryl Janmaat's attempt to find goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen bounced off the post.
Hiddink (left) was so enraged after the loss that he had to take time to calm down ahead of a television interview.
The 67-year-old veteran, who has now lost both matches since taking charge of Holland for the second time, with the nation also tasting a 2-0 defeat by Italy in a friendly last week, felt that his side "stupidly" gave away a point against the Czechs.
"I was livid. I had to introduce myself to shelter. That's why I stayed away (from the post-match media interviews) for half an hour," said Hiddink.
"If you cannot win, you must be sure that you will not lose in any case. We gave it away so stupidly. When I talk about it now, I get extremely angry again."
Hiddink lambasted Janmaat for his defensive error, and said that Dutch errors also led to the Czechs' opening goal.
"When you make mistakes like that, then it is a very difficult story," he said.
"Whether you play football with four or five defenders, it does not matter if you're so naive defending.
"The first goal they shoot great inside but, for that, we had to suffer two clumsy turnovers. That second goal, we completely gave away."
Dutch captain Robin van Persie rubbished talk that Holland are struggling without Louis van Gaal and refused to blame their defeat by the Czech Republic on new boss Hiddink.
Hiddink went with van Gaal's favoured 5-3-2 formation until switching to four at the back after 40 minutes.
"It is nonsense to say that it is now suddenly hard under a new coach," said the Manchester United striker.
"Especially after the equaliser, we had the match in hand. There were opportunities. To go to 2-1 so late, it leaves a bitter taste, because 1-1 would not have been so bad."
Czech coach Pavel Vrba was thrilled to finally oversee his first win in charge of the national team since taking the reins in January.
"I am thrilled, perfectly happy with the 2-1 win, although it wasn't easy and we were a bit lucky at the end," said Vrba, after his fifth match in charge. - Wire Services.