Glum mood, long odds weigh on Dutch
KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP):
The Netherlands are ready to gamble that they can beat Portugal by two goals and keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet in the teams' last group match at the European Championship today.
Needing a German victory over Denmark to have even a glimmer of hope of advancing, Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk says on the eve of the decisive Group B match that caution has little use at this stage.
With his team needing to win by at least a two-goal margin, Van Marwijk said: ''Our way of playing will be totally based on that.''
Van Marwijk is expected to pair top strikers Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie after losing the first two games of the tournament to Denmark and Germany starting with a single striker. At the same time, he must find a way to keep Portugal's forwards at bay.
As the Dutch coach readily acknowledged: ''We are clutching at our last straw.
''A draw should be enough for them,'' he said. ''And they have Ronaldo and Nani - and nine other players.''
A group stage exit would be the worst result in over a decade for the Dutch since they failed to reach the 2002 World Cup finals.
What makes that prospect worse are the high hopes they had before the tournament. Two years after losing the World Cup final in extra time to Spain, the Dutch felt they were ready to reap the rewards of having stars like Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder all coming into Euro 2012 unburdened by injury.
By yesterday, though, the mood was almost as dark as the black jerseys they will wear today. And even the statistics don't look good. In all, the Netherlands have defeated Portugal just once in their past 10 meetings, way back in 1991. And that was only 1-0.