ROTTERDAM, June 5 (Reuters) - The Dutch will start their challenge at Euro 2012 with almost the same team that lost to Spain in the 2010 World Cup final.
Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst retired after that final and was replaced at left-back by Erik Pieters.
It may only be a coincidence, but the Dutch side’s defensive organisation has become one of coach Bert van Marwijk’s main concerns.
Despite a smooth qualifying campaign, the Dutch have been exposed defensively, not only in a 3-0 friendly defeat to Germany, but also in a 3-2 win over England in February.
At Wembley, they let slip a two-goal lead in the final phase against an injury-depleted England. They know that they cannot afford such defending during the Euro finals.
Where Van Marwijk’s biggest job two years ago was to keep his squad focused during the whole tournament, now the main target will be surviving the group stage.
The Dutch cruised through ‘groups of death’ in 2006 and 2008, but faced the threat of an early exit during the first round -- now, once again, they have been drawn in the toughest group with Denmark, Germany and Portugal.
Van Marwijk will therefore face a challenge in preparing his team to play only ‘finals’ because such a tough and unforgiving group allows no time for recovery from any slips.
The Dutch have mixed records against their group opponents.
They beat the Danes at the World Cup two years ago and they have a positive balance against neighbours Germany during Euro finals with two wins, one draw and one defeat.
The Portuguese, however, have proved a nemesis in the last 10 years. They kept them from the 2002 World Cup, delivered a semi-final exit at Euro 2004 and a last 16 World Cup defeat two years later in a match of four red cards and a dozen bookings.
But it is not all bad news and bad luck for the Dutch.
To balance up their defensive woes, they can claim to have some of the best forwards in Europe this season.
Striker Robin van Persie of Arsenal was the Premier League’s top scorer this season while Klaas Jan Huntelaar has developed into a goal machine with both Schalke 04 and the Dutch team.
In addition to the luxury of having two in-form strikers in his squad, Van Marwijk also has arguably an even more lethal weapon available in Arjen Robben.
His talent, in a sharp three-pronged attack ahead of a defence in need of more consistency and strength, could be the key to the Dutch bid for success. (Editing by Tim Collings/Mike Collett; email@example.com)