[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith the expansion of the upcoming European Championships to include an increased 24 teams next summer in France, a section of the footballing fraternity were suggesting that the decision to add more teams would result in a drop in quality.
The thinking was that the big nations would not be tested in qualifying while there was also new-found capacity for mediocre sides to make the cut and the tournament itself would not be as tightly contested as a result.
However, this prognosis has been dispelled by the shock qualifying failure of the Netherlands, who managed to finish fourth in a six-team Group A and even miss out on the play-off round, never mind next summer’s competition.
A famous footballing nation with a proud history, the European country has had some of the game’s most recognisable and distinguished players step out in the Oranje over the years, including Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten.
Despite this, Holland have but one major competition triumph to their name; the 1988 European Championships, where a vastly gifted team beat the Soviet Union 2-0 in the final.
Examining the current crop, it is time that the Netherlands forgot about World Cup final defeat to Spain in 2010 and embraced a new generation of players in a quest for success.
The elder statesmen of Danny Blind’s current contingent are now surely set to step down, with the star-studded names starting to feel the acrimony of age.
Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar may well have been global superstars in their prime, but it now is time for their successors to stand up and be counted; key attacker Arjen Robben is another who will be pushing his limit if Holland are to qualify for the World Cup in 2018.
Looking at this Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, the results were disappointing and the performances certainly did not characterise the Total Football ethos adopted in days gone past.
Netherlands may well have been handed a tricky group, but over the course of the campaign few could complain that the side have been hard done by or were unlucky.
Beaten at home by the Czech Republic and Iceland, the side that finished directly above them, Turkey, also took four points from the teams’ two meetings – which included a 3-0 humbling in Konya.
The Dutch conceded 14 goals over the course of the campaign, with their only wins coming against the modest basement dwellers Latvia and Kazakhstan.
Looking at the current squad, the clubs the players represent are no longer of the ilk of Barcelona, Juventus or Real Madrid, with many playing for mid-to-low level Premier League sides or still featuring in the Eredivisie.
The Dutch domestic league has been a hotbed of talent over the years, with the PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord academies producing future world-beaters; having nine Eredivisie players in the current squad, most of whom are in their early 20’s, suggests a team of potential in a couple of years time.
However, players such as Ibrahim Afelley, Eljero Elia, Jeremain Lens, Ron Vlaar and Nigel De Jong are all ageing and starting to look very ineffective.
Blind’s task to revitalise this proud footballing nation while involve young stars of tomorrow such as Memphis Depay, Reichedly Bazoer, Terence Kongolo and other less-experienced players – but this group will need time to step up to the challenge.
It is a time of real transition for this great footballing nation, with the end of an era and a new crop of youngsters set to be handed the challenge of recording success.
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