Blue Saturday, Orange sundown – Netherlands defeated in u21 semi finals
Yesterday, Cor Pot said ‘I am aware people will be asking for my head if things go wrong.’ Well, the moment is there. A goal by Fabio Borini put the Netherlands out of the U21 European Championships after a typical Italian display in which the Netherlands struggled to break the ranks of the Azzurini (1-0). Two wins, two losses, this tournament has clearly not brought what the Dutch faithful had hoped it would: A third European Championship under 21 title. The Dutch manager felt they could leave the tournament heads held high though. ‘We played some good football today, but couldn’t finish our chances. We forced the Italians back. It’s very bitter we are being knocked out in typical Italian fashion.’
The Dutch were the only beaten team to reach the semis, with Spain, Italy and Norway all unbeaten in three, but they pushed the Italians back from the start. The Azzurini had impressed in the group stages, but had trouble with containing the Dutch midfield and attack, with especially Kevin Strootman and Georginio Wijnaldum excelling. The Italian team were lucky in the opening half, with Adam Maher curling a free kick against the near (right) post. The Italians were dangerous on the break and the agile Ciro Immobile created plenty of havoc. The big man at Italy’s side throughout the tournament, Lorenzo Insigne, was kept pretty quiet though out and the Dutch remained on top, with left back and Daley Blind trying to surprise Francesco Bardi with a long range blast. The Italian goalkeeper was able to keep the shot out. After that, Maher was fouled in the penalty box, but it was overlooked by referee and the score remained 0-0 at the break.
Whereas the first half had created plenty of moments to be excited about, the second half was one that bled to death quite fast. The Dutch looked bereft of ideas and the Italians were mainly trying to contain any attack the Dutch executed. As the clock ticked on, some of the players got a little irritated, with Bruno Martins Indi as the main Dutchman showing it and a few other Italians provoking him with a little theatre from time to time. Memphis Depay was brought on for Benfica’s Ola John in order to force something, but it hardly made a difference.
Fifteen minutes from the end, reserve-captain and central defender Stefan de Vrij couldn’t continue as he had a bruised upper leg and was substituted for FC Utrecht’s central defender Mike Van der Hoorn. It proved crucial. Van der Hoorn was unlucky in the 3-0 against Spain and this time he wasn’t any better. A dribble by Insigne, followed by a pass to Borini saw Van der Hoorn misjudging the situation as he stepped in too early. The Liverpool striker took the ball and seized upon the mistake. With only ten minutes to go, the Italians felt confident they were through. Leroy Fer was brought on to try and make a physical impact and he looked lively, but wasn’t able to score. The Italians tried to slow down the play through some extra theatrics, causing an incredible five minutes of injury time. The Italians survived and it will be them facing Spain (who beat Norway 3-0) in the final. Instead of Red versus Orange, it will be the Blue of the Azzurini appearing at the kick-off on Wednesday.
Mike Van der Hoorn was inconsolable after the game, having ended his breakout season with a nightmare display at this tournament. At first he was so distraught he wasn’t even able to talk to the press. When he finally talked, he was very self-conscious. ‘You can’t have it all, apparently. (…)I thought I was coming here to experience something great. But my first action today was stepping in too eagerly and the Italians score. Everything went so well for me, this is a huge kick in the teeth.’
Manager Cor Pot was critical of his youngster: ‘You can’t make a mistake like that on this level.’ Overall, Pot had mixed feelings about the tournament: ‘Our goal of becoming European Champions wasn’t reached, so from that perspective I have failed. But from time to time, we have played some good football. – We didn’t get what we deserve. I think we’ve showed we’re a top European side.’ Midfielder Marco van Ginkel was disappointed as well. ‘Our goal was taking that European title. If you exit in the semis, its tough to take. A shame for this team.’
For many of the team though, there will be another chance next year, as nine of the current squad are expected to join the ‘big’ Oranje for the World Cup in 2014. Van Gaal will be hoping they’ll take the lessons learnt and experience with them.