The remarkable thing about yesterday's match was the Dutch's utter lack of self belief. After that great start by Rafael Van Der Vaart, they faded away and the Portugese started bossing the ball around. Only in the last 10 minutes when the result was moot did they perk up and play with some assurance with Van Der Vaart providing one more spark. But this was a collection of beaten down individuals who did not even play for the pride of winning one last match.
The question is did the Dutch internalize some of the struggles facing the clubs they play for? The afterglow of self belief coming from a successful club season can be extremely potent.
It's no mystery Wesley Sneijder is a shadow of the player he was two years ago. At the 2010 World Cup he scored five goals and set up numerous others. He was the catalyst behind Inter's triple crown, the jewel, the Champions League victory. But Inter unraveled as Jose Mourinho departed for Real Madrid and the club saw a parade of coaches who entered and exited in double quick time. Their ragged performances continued this season as they slid down the table and out of Champions League contention with Andrea Stramaccioni's arrival reviving their fortunes enough for a Europa Cup spot.
Robin Van Persie plays for Arsenal, where re-defining success has become rote. Coming in third is the new first. Or getting to the Champions League is as good as winning it. There are rationalizations for everything and anything under Arsene Wenger in their seven years without a title. The Gunners on the last day against West Brom almost conspired to give away their Champions League spot but for replacement goalie Martin Fulop's lack of self belief and match practice. There is a sense of inevitability in the Ides of March when Arsenal's wheels come off as there is an inevitability to the off season struggles to keep their top players with RVP strongly rumoured to lead the way.
Arjen Robben, the consummate ball hog, came to the Champions League final expecting to be crowned a champion in his own home. Chelsea had been virtually written off as the banners read "not in our house". Bayern went on the offense but Chelsea's defense refused to come unglued till Thomas Mueller's goal. Then came Didier Drogba's heroics and thereafter a penalty shootout which an English club actually won. How's that for inducing a streak of fatalism? FC Hollywood had previously been upended by Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and the German Cup. The biggest club in the Bundesliga is not top dog anymore being shown up by sides with tighter budgets in an already spendthrift Bundesliga.
Rafael Van Der Vaart plays for a club where fatalism is a considered virtue. Just when one talks up the chances of Spurs winning their first Premiership title they go down skid row. Or overtaking Arsenal. How about May 19th being the day Spurs fans and Van Der Vaart learned their fourth place finish was not going to be enough. No matter who you bring to the club in transfers and in coaching there appears to be a ceiling effect at White Hart Lane.
These are the Dutch lynchpins, the fulcrum of the attack. They had to win by at least two goals to pad any defensive giveaways but they played like they believed no matter what they did bad karma was going to doom them. Maybe they had seen too much in their own clubs to make them think otherwise. The results against the Danes probably reinforced that perception. One can point to the Germans and say a number of their players should also suffer from this fatalism but in their midst there are examples of the buoyancy and self confidence that comes from club success.