Next year’s European Championship in France was enlarged from 16 teams to 24. There still wasn’t a place for the dismal Dutch.
The 1988 European champion and three-time World Cup finalist completed a catastrophic qualification series Tuesday with a humiliating 3-2 defeat in Amsterdam to the 10-man Czech Republic.
As if saving their worst for last, the Dutch went 2-0 down in 35 minutes, Robin van Persie scored an own goal and a late rally was not enough to secure a win that ultimately wouldn’t have got Danny Blind’s team to France anyway.
Instead, Turkey beat Iceland 1-0 to secure direct qualification from Group A as the best third-place team. “In the end, the disappointment is in the whole qualification campaign,” coach Danny Blind said.
“We have not been good enough,” he added.
It was a stunning admission in a nation where teenagers have emerged as future stars with every World Cup or European campaign since the 1970s from Johan Cruyff to Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp and Van Persie.
Look around and there are no worthy successors.
It made for a spectacular fall from grace for the Netherlands, which opened last year’s World Cup in Brazil with a dazzling 5-1 defeat of reigning world and European champion Spain and went on to reach the semifinals, where Argentina needed a penalty shootout to prevail.
In Group A, the architects of Total Football failed totally.
“It is a collective failure,” midfielder Wesley Sneijder said.
It was the first time since the 2002 World Cup that the Netherlands had failed to qualify for a major tournament and the first European Championship since 1984 the Dutch have missed.
While teams like Albania, Wales and Northern Ireland made it to the tournament in France, the Netherlands will watch it on TV.
Veteran stars like Sneijder and Van Persie misfired again Tuesday and will now be wondering about their international futures as the country inevitably looks to rebuild ahead of a tough qualifying group for the next World Cup.
But the great hope for the future Manchester United winger Memphis Depay has only three goals in 21 internationals.
Blind, who replaced Guus Hiddink with four qualifiers to go and lost three of them, said the country simply does not have enough quality players to make wholesale changes.
He said that a lengthy injury list was a key element in the failed campaign.
“We missed 12-15 players,” he said.
“We are not Germany or Spain, we are the Netherlands and it’s hard to cope with that.”
Probably the key missing ingredient was Arjen Robben. The Bayern Munich winger was the most dangerous Dutch player by far at the World Cup in Brazil. But the injury-prone Robben missed several Euro 2016 qualifiers, including Tuesday’s.
He was out for the opening match, a 2-1 defeat to the CzechRepublic in Prague, missed the 1-1 draw to Turkey in Amsterdam and a 2-0 victory in Latvia.
The Dutch beat only Latvia and Kazakhstan in Group A.
The team did not manage a single victory in six matches against Turkey, the CzechRepublic and Iceland.
The bad news for Dutch football fans is that the team’s qualification group for the 2018 World Cup looks even tougher than its Euro 2016 group – featuring heavyweights France and Sweden – as well as Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg.