The statistics do not make pleasant reading for the Netherlands, who must beat Portugal by two goals on Sunday and hope Germany overcome Denmark if they are to reach the Euro 2012 quarter-finals. No team has ever reached the knockout phase at a Euro after losing their first two matches, and statistical website Infostrada Sports estimates that Bert van Marwijk’s side stand only a 9.5 percent chance of going through.
The omens are similarly ominous. The last time the Oranje were eliminated at the group phase of the European Championship was in 1980, two years after they finished runners-up at the 1978 World Cup — just as they did in 2010.
As if the weight of history was not enough of a burden, van Marwijk also appears to face problems with several of his most important players.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart have both expressed anger at being left out of his starting line-up, while Arjen Robben reacted to his substitution in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Germany by jumping over an advertising hoarding and stalking angrily back to the dug-out.
The top scorers in qualifying with 37 goals, it took Holland 45 shots to find the net at the Euro but Robin van Persie’s 73rd-minute effort against Germany was ultimately in vain.
The Dutch press have deplored van Marwijk’s continued faith in van Persie at the expense of Huntelaar, who could start in place of Ibrahim Afellay in Kharkiv on Sunday with Holland obliged to attack Portugal from the off.
“I drew a lot of conclusions from our defeat against Germany,” said van Marwijk, as quoted by Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.
“We defended carelessly and the service of both Ibrahim Afellay and Arjen Robben from the flanks was not good enough.”
Van Marwijk has a fully fit squad to choose from, with all 23 players able to participate in a closed training session in Krakow on Friday evening.
Portugal are also at full-strength, as reserve defender Miguel Lopes returned to training in the Polish town of Opalenica on Friday after recovering from a cold.
Beaten 1-0 by Germany in their opening game, Portugal let a 2-0 lead slip against Denmark in Lviv on Wednesday before Silvestre Varela’s thunderous 87th-minute half-volley rejuvenated their attempts to reach the quarter-finals.
The result means that Portugal will be guaranteed to reach the last eight if they win, unless Denmark beat Germany in the other game, which would invoke a three-way head-to-head comparison between those teams.
The only disappointment for Portugal coach Paulo Bento was yet another mystifyingly poor performance in front of goal from his captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, who spurned two one-on-one chances to put Portugal 3-1 up.
The last meeting between Portugal and Holland at a major tournament saw the Seleccao prevail 1-0 in a bad-tempered last-16 match at the 2006 World Cup in Germany that yielded a record 16 cautions and four red cards.
A similar outcome on Sunday would take Portugal into the last eight, but for all Holland’s travails, Varela says it is too early to write them off.
“We all know the Dutch have excellent players with a lot of quality,” said the Porto winger.
“We will have to play our game and focus on ourselves, but also be wary of an opponent that is wounded.”
The Netherlands will wear a change strip of all black at Kharkiv’s Metalist Stadium. Given their slender chances of qualifying, they will hope it is not another omen.