Holland in fine display against small San Marino

Posted on 8 September 2010

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This analysis of the Holland – San Marino game might come as a somewhat dated publication, which, in fact, it is… Although it’s been delayed due to busy times on several fronts, I’ve still decided to publish it, mainly for future reference.

Last week saw the opening fixtures of the Euro 2012 qualification rounds with Holland kicking off against San Marino in the big-named, but small-sized Stadio Olimpico de Serravalle. The other teams in group E are Sweden, Finland, Moldova and Hungary and it looks like a two-horse race between Holland and Sweden for the qualification place with vice-World Champion Oranje being the big favorite of course.

There have not been too many changes to the Dutch national team after their successful World Cup campaign leading to our nations third ever lost World Cup final, the first in over 30 years. Manager Bert van Marwijk and his coaching staff remain at the helm of a squad that has not seen too many changes overall.

Captain and left-back Giovanni van Bronckhorst retired from football at the age of 35. Veteran quarter final hero André Ooijer retired from international football and focuses on an interesting role in Ajax’ coming season. The ‘short-term’ unavailable list features the injured Robben and Van Persie.

Van Marwijk has recently stated that he sees the left back position being competed between Erik Pieters (PSV) and Vurnon Anita (Ajax), with the first preferred against San Marino for his presumed attacking qualitities and the latter, a former midfielder, against Finland.

Oranje's starting 4-2-3-1 vs San Marino's 5-4-1

Van Marwijk plays the trendy 4-2-3-1 ever since his installment at Oranje and during the World Cup he opted for inverted wingers with Robben on the right flank and Kuyt on the left. Robben’s injury left him with several options. Playing Van der Vaart on the right wing would be the only option to maintain the inverted winger principle. Other options would be the right-footers Elia, Afellay or Lens. Or, as van Marwijk chose against San Marino, to move Kuyt to the right wing and play the right-footed Elia on the left wing.

Other changes were made as Hedwiges Maduro was introduced to replace Heitinga in central defense, who was suspended after his extra-time red card in the past World Cup final. The Valencia defender, who is equally adept in a defensive midfield role, was preferred over Feyenoord captain Ron Vlaar, mainly because of his superior passing qualities in a match where Holland would not be in need of much defensive qualities.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar might well be in for the season of his life. The substitute Oranje striker experienced a rather frustrating World Cup, seeing Van Marwijk stick to playing Van Persie in the striker role despite him having scored only once in seven matches. He proved professional enough to restrict his words to a mere “I have the feeling that I could been of value during the World Cup final”. For now, at least during Van Persies injury, Huntelaar is Holland’s main striker.

San Marino played a fairly straight 5-4-1. They defended deep and kept their midfield bank of four close to the defensive line, attempting to eliminate playing space. Lone striker Andy Selva, the only player to have scored more than one international goal, was never expected to see much of the game, although his 28th minute optimistic long range effort deserved more than sailing just over the bar.

Holland, meanwhile, featured in their well-known 4-2-3-1 system with Sneijder swerving around looking for the little space available. In fact, this often meant dropping deep to receive the ball at feet, directing play towards his fellow midfielders. Of these, de Jong played rather deep, both in an effort not to hinder Sneijder dropping deep and to secure the defense for Maduro to exert his passing skills in an assisting midfielder role from central defense.

On the wings, Elia strechted play well on the left, again making space for Sneijder to use his off the ball skills. Kuyt, on the right wing tended to come inside, filling up the space vacated by striker Huntelaar in search of space, hereby introducing an element of unpredictability to Holland’s attacks.

The first half

The fifteenth minute penalty, after a foul on Huntelaar, was cleanly converted by Kuyt and given the David vs Goliath nature of this game, all tension, if any, was gone by then. Holland were mainly adding to their 23-0 scoring history of the previous four enocounters with San Marino.

It took another twenty minutes for Oranje to score the 2-0, from a simple Huntelaar tap-in after a quick free kick leaving San Marino’s defence more than exposed. The match was never very interesting after that. Perhaps the most intriguing thing of the first half was guessing what the Dutch TV director would have meant with showing the statistic that “most threat came through the right wing: 55%”, never informing the audience if the statistic measured passes, dribbles, possession or anything else, and not providing whether this meant 45% left, or 45% left and central.

The second half

The second half, starting with the comfortable 2-0 score line, meant time for Van Marwijk to try some variations to his team. New Tottenham boy Van der Vaart replaced Nigel de Jong, taking up the passing role in midfield with captain Van Bommel now playing deeper.

San Marino was quickly exposed, allowing Huntelaar to score his second goal, this time after being left free in space within the heart of the San Marino defence. Text-book off the ball running allowed Huntelaar to tap in his third goal of the evening, strengthening his ambition to become the goal-scoring striker that Holland missed during the World Cup. Cult-hero Ruud van Nistelrooy came on as a 68th minute substitute for Dirk Kuyt and, much to the crowd’s enjoyment, scored a late goal, settling the 5-0 score.

The conclusion

In conclusion, Holland achieved a routine result from a routine display against a very weak side. Not much else to be drawn up here as these matches never really offer the opportunity to excel beyond pre-match expectations. The interplay between Huntelaar and Sneijder was certainly a positive note, both players being quite familiar with each other after their Ajax and Real Madrid spells. Furthermore, three goals and an assist by Huntelaar in the striker role will worry the injured Van Persie.