Netherlands 0-1 Iceland: All goes wrong in Danny Blind debut
After some big changes in the Netherlands set up over recent months, Thursday evening’s important and highly anticipated Euro 2016 qualifier against Iceland showed that it’s business as usual for the Oranje.
Confidence in the national team has been in freefall, ironically, since their surprise third placed finish at the World Cup in 2014. Usually as one much-maligned coaching reign comes to an end, confidence and optimism takes hold on a side when a new leader is instilled. However, even before Guus Hiddink’s disastrous spell with Oranje was curtailed, anxiety and fear already began to build at the thought of the unproven Danny Blind taking up the position, a development which had been decided back at the end of 2013.
Blind, if no one else, would have been fairly confident heading into his first game in charge on Thursday. With the likes of Arjen Robben, Memphis Depay, Gregory van der Wiel, Jasper Cillessen, Davy Klaassen, Georginio Wijnaldum and Wesley Sneijder in the starting XI, the coach would have had the feeling there was enough talent in the side to overcome a strong Iceland team in the Amsterdam ArenA.
While it was somewhat discomforting to see Daley Blind at left-back beside Bruno Martins Indi in a back four, the attacking talent was plentiful.
It all began to unravel fairly quickly, though, for the man who was taking charge of his first game as a head coach since May 2006 (Huntelaar and Sneijder were both in the team that day – a 2-1 win over PSV).
In a stuttering start, Iceland almost broke the deadlock after four minutes, when Gylfi Sigurdsson was found with a cross at the backpost, sending it back across the face of goal, but with no one connecting.
Shortly afterwards, Arjen Robben, star of the team and the man who looked like he would be key in unlocking a well positioned and defensively proactive opponent, walked off injured. Two minutes after his replacement, Luciano Narsingh, came on, defender Bruno Martins Indi was shown a red card. The former Feyenoord player had tangled with ex-Ajax attacker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and struck him in the head with his hand when they hit the ground.
In his first big in-game decision, Blind reacted to the red card by taking off striker Huntelaar for centre-back Jeffrey Bruma.
A monumental blow, but with the talent in the squad, there was a way for Netherlands to keep pressure on the visitors and make the difference.
While they held onto the ball and had enough possession, they were not incisive at all and severely lacked any coherence in the final third.
The final nail in the coffin came after five minutes into the second half, when Van der Wiel brought Birkir Bjarnason down in the box, sliding in unnecessarily and missing the ball. While Cillessen got a hand to Sigurdsson’s penalty, he failed to keep it out and Iceland took the lead.
It was no longer bad luck. It was an absolute catastrophe and Iceland pressed even more, with Johann Berg Gudmundsson smashing the post with a lovely curling effort from outside the box.
Still, though, the Dutch pressed forward in search of the equaliser and did force Hannes Halldorsson into a few saves, but the goalkeeper was wise to their efforts.
With such big and uncontrollable factors going against him, Blind will feel extremely unlucky, but Netherlands should have threatened more than they did throughout the game. Credit must be given to Iceland and Blind insists he does not regret the withdrawal of Huntelaar because of a need for mobility, but his side were heavily lacking a reference point and a presence up front as a result. With Luuk de Jong and Robin van Persie in the team, it seemed bizarre to leave them on the bench for 90 minutes.
Blind said before the game that Van Persie had not played enough games to justify starting him over Huntelaar and wanted a high tempo up front, which makes it a mystery as to why he selected him in the 23 man squad in the first place.
It is just the beginning for Blind and usually when a new coach takes charge of a team it’s suggested that it could take time for them to stamp their authority on the team. The problem is, though, we have no idea what Blind’s authority is. He has not been a head coach for almost a decade.
Daley Blind and Martins Indi occupying the entire left side of the defence is always going to be a worry and Iceland looked dangerous when they pressed down that flank. This is the same set up Hiddink opted for consistently and failed, or refused, to acknowledge the problem with it until it was too late. With Jetro Willems injured, the left-back position is a tough one to fill, but there needed to be more protection in the system for that weaker area. That Blind didn’t feel this was necessary in the first place, having been assistant coach at the national team since 2012, suggests that he never will.
Van Gaal was more proactive in setting the Netherlands team up in a way that covered their weaknesses first and played to their strengths. Hiddink immediately completely dismantled this system to take the squad back to playing what he called dominant and attacking football, but it did not work out. There is nothing really to suggest that Blind is going to deviate away from his predecessor’s general tone.
It feels unfair to stick the boot in on Blind after just one game, especially after a hectic debut, but the problem is that this general set up and these issues are pretty much what was expected. Something too similar to the ineffective Hiddink regime.
Netherlands now sit third in Group A, six points behind Czech Republic and a further two behind Iceland. With three games left, the situation is worrying. The coach may have changed, but the issues look the same.
Hiddink was supposed to lead Oranje into Euro 2016 with Blind taking over afterwards, but it seems the KNVB’s entire long term plan is about to be completely destroyed even before the tournament in France as the Dutch are in danger of missing out completely. The way things are now, it will be a big achievement for Netherlands to progress, but the real problem is that they don’t look like they deserve to be there at all.