As I survey the shattered particles of the so-called Group of Death, scattered like so many discarded Legos at the feet of Marco Van Basten, I have to wonder. Like everyone else, I have developed an enormous man-crush on this Holland team, which so casually dispatched its group opponents and, into the bargain, seems intent on playing football about as lovely as can be played under the modern conditions of production. This Dutch team has so much to recommend it—their goals are better, they zing one in every half an hour so no one gets bored, their passing is prettier, their shirts are tighter, even their names are longer—it’s churlish to raise any objections at this point.
Still…isn’t it always the way? You look at a four-team group and think, gor’blimey, guv’nor! This will be insane! Then three of the four sides turn out to play like MLS teams that stumbled on a cache of your better performance-enhancing drugs. The dubious send-off of Abidal aside, this French team was completely gormless: these Frenchies appear to have confused their repertoire of amusing Gallic facial expressions for a strategy. I do admire the kamikaze spirit of the Italian team, and I can practically hear Gianluigi Buffon describing his recipe for human liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti, but if these guys manage to win a trophy again, it’s time for a full-scale Calciopoli investigation. The Romanians did the near-impossible by stumbling into the last day with a chance of advancing on a measly two points, and now we see how they got that way.
So the question is, when does someone step up and make Holland work for it? Is there a team in this tournament that can force the Dutch out of exhibition-season mode, test their not-entirely-convincing defense, make Dirk Kuyt’s face even redder?