Italy 2-0 Netherlands: Hiddink gets it wrong upon Oranje return

After an unexpected and uplifting third place finish at the World Cup in Brazil, the belief and confidence in the Netherlands national team had been higher than it had been in any of the last two years. Sadly, though, those high spirits have come crashing down less than two months later in new coach Guus Hiddink’s first game as the Oranje suffered a 2-0 defeat to Italy in a weak, flat and ultimately dreadful performance.

After just 10 minutes, the Azzurri had the game tied up as they lead 2-0 and the Dutch were a man down, having seen Bruno Martins Indi sent off.

Having made known his ambition to turn the Oranje back into an attacking force capable of dominating games in typical Dutch fashion, Hiddink reverted back to a 4-3-3 after Louis van Gaal had set them up in a 5-3-2 throughout the summer showpiece in Brazil.

However, Hiddink soon learned that there was a reason Van Gaal had decided not to use the 4-3-3 formation in the summer. To put it simply, the current squad of players are not suited to it at all.

The formation, though, wasn’t the only worrying thing about Hiddink’s set up. Several questions could be raised over his selection as well as his management of the team. Ibrahim Afellay returned to the selection, despite playing just 24 minutes of football last season, Wesley Sneijder was used in midfield having failed to live up to expectations this summer and is not suited to a 4-3-3 with his current lack of pace. Meanwhile, Luciano Narsingh, who has had a poor year, was included in the squad and Memphis Depay, the star of the Eredivisie, was stranded on the bench.

Robin van Persie continued his run of poor performances in a Netherlands jersey. The Manchester United forward enjoyed a bright start to the World Cup but his performances dropped after two games and against Italy he had absolutely no influence on the team. The captain was eventually substituted for Narsingh as Dirk Kuyt moved up to become the only striker as Hiddink looked to limit the damage, moving the team back to sit in a 4-4-1.

Kuyt himself though wasn’t at his industrious best on the right wing. It seems somewhat short sighted to have the Fenerbahce attacker in the squad, let alone the starting XI. While his work rate is incredible, he has lost his pace and has no place in an Oranje team which needs to attack with speed. Furthermore, the coach allowed Sneijder to play all 90 minutes despite yet another game in which he had minimal to no influence. The lack of a strong and athletic box-to-box midfielder like Kevin Strootman was the main weakness in midfield and that coupled with the lack of a good left-back left them at risk defensively too.

After his good performances in the World Cup, Hiddink decided to use Blind as the left-back – a recipe for disaster as he didn’t have the protection he enjoyed in Brazil when he knew he had three centre-backs behind him. Furthermore, the new Manchester United player was always going to come under a lot of pressure from a wide and quick Italian attack. The result of this decision was the former Ajax player having a torrid night. So shot, drained and disillusioned was the 24-year-old that by the time Hiddink moved him into the centre of midfield, he even failed to put in a good display in his natural position.

When Erik Pieters came on for Nigel de Jong to allow Blind to move into the midfield, he showed enough energy and urgency to show that he would have been a much better option to start on the left side of the defence as the Stoke City man rushed back to help out and, when the visitors came into possession, he would charge forward into the midfield to add width and create a passing option. It was too little too late, though, for Hiddink’s men.

Blind, however, wasn’t the only one to put in a poor display, far from it. He was caught out of position for the first goal, which came after just three minutes, but so were Stefan de Vrij and Martins Indi. Cillessen reacted horrendously, rushing off his line and leaping to meet the ball, only to be duped and beaten with ease by Ciro Immobile. The defence was stretched time and time again as Italy continued to put them under pressure in a positive display in coach Antonio Conte’s first display. Salvatore Sirigu and his back line had one of the easiest nights of their careers.Netherlands had just one shot on target.

They were impotent, slow, lacking imagination and inspiration. A performance reminiscent of the game in February against France, the match that ultimately saw Van Gaal change his system.

Nigel de Jong was one of the few positives for Hiddink as the midfield warrior put in a strong display in front of the defence, cutting out several Italian attacks and did his utmost to ensure the Oranje remained in possession with his passes and good control. Even the AC Milan player, though, will feel he didn’t put in his best performance.

“This was not a good night,” Hiddink told SBS6 after the game. “We were naive, or maybe we underestimated Italy. But this should not have happened. This is a learning process for the players.”

He’s right, it shouldn’t have happened, but the onus to learn is not placed upon the players’ shoulders, it’s on Hiddink’s. It is he who has to realise where he went wrong and learn from a series of mistakes. His formation, squad selection and set up were all weak and poorly thought out. Failure to inspire the team and adjust to the weaknesses of his squad will see him in for a torrid time in his second spell in charge of the Dutch team.

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