The inability of the Dutch to win important football games is one of sports’ greatest conundrums. The talent and ability of their players is undoubted. They have had some of the best coaches. Their players have been the heart and soul of all-conquering club sides – the winning DNA is not missing. But somehow when they all get together to play for the country, things go wrong at the most crucial junctures.
Numerous theories and explanations have been propounded.
The most acceptable amongst those point to the high cerebral quotient of Dutch players – they often get into arguments over tactics – and team spirit goes for a toss.
The same argument has been made by David Winner in his excellent book on Dutch Football – Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius Of Dutch Soccer.
If this is indeed the case, then other Dutch sportspersons shouldn’t be any different – they should also be masters of the heart breaking defeat.
Oddly though, their hockey teams have more often than not shown very contrasting behaviour.
They seem to save their best for the biggest occasions.
They have won 2 out of the last 4 Olympic titles, 2 out of last 6 World Cups and 6 out of the last 12 Champions Trophies – making a very strong case for themselves as the best hockey nation in the last 20 odd years.
What is going on here?
Hockey is also a team sport like football and involves as much tactics and strategy as their footy cousins.
You could argue that hockey is less competitive than football, but then again, a Dutch hockey side should be just as vulnerable to infighting over tactics – an action exacerbated by the very Dutch trait of freedom of thought and expression.
If we deep dive a little, we will find that Dutch football sides either produce flawless football and roll over the opposition or lose their heads and their conviction when not at their best in closely fought battles of attrition. The lone exception being the 1988 European Champions in the former West Germany.
But their hockey teams have excelled in all kinds of situations, often winning games when not at their best and when faced with a difficult situation. Their victory over a rampant Pakistan led by Shahbaz Ahmed in the 1990 World Cup final in Lahore is a classic example.
About time the footballers took some lessons from their hockey mates.