Too many lost finals, only cup counts for Dutch
(Eds: With AP Photos.)
By RAF CASERT
AP Sports Writer
KRAKOW, Poland -- Second-best just isn't good enough for the Netherlands anymore.
After losing to Spain two years ago in the World Cup final, the city of Amsterdam has let it be known that the Dutch players shouldn't count on an official celebration unless they come home with the European Championship trophy.
"Losing that final is now the motivation to win Euro 2012," Netherlands captain Mark van Bommel said, recalling the bittersweet taste of the big homecoming party two years ago along the canals of his nation's capital.
Now, even officials in the grandest Dutch city say being runner-up is nothing to celebrate. Been there, done that -- too often.
"Last time we set up festivities when they came in second," Sara Gradstein, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said Thursday. "(This time) they'll only get one if they come in first."
The pain of losing stretches back to 1974, when the golden generation of Johan Cruijff lost to West Germany 2-1 in the World Cup final despite dominating the tournament with their revolutionary brand of free-flowing Total Football.
Four years later, the same thing: The Dutch felt sure they had won the World Cup when Rob Rensenbrink shot past Argentina goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol in the dying seconds of regular time -- only to see the ball hit the post. The hosts won it 3-1 in extra time.
Eventually, the Dutch did win a major title, the Euros in 1988, behind the future AC Milan trio of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. It was a great achievement for a nation with a population far smaller than powers like Germany, Italy, France and Spain, the Dutch might as well be considered overachievers.
Yet two dozen years with a cup makes the Dutch feel like underachievers.
Almost without fail, they produce a great crop of players. In recent years, the team has been built around creative talents like Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, with a bruising organizer like Van Bommel thrown in.
At Euro 2012, this generation is looking for redemption.
"We realize this is perhaps our last chance to win a tournament," said Netherlands forward Dirk Kuyt, one of the core of players that reached the 2010 final and will start against Denmark on Saturday.
If their skills are beyond doubt, the Dutch have to live with a legacy of failing in the clutch. They lost penalty shootouts at the 1992, 1996 and 2000 European Championships and in the semifinals of the 1998 World Cup against Brazil.
This time around, that fear centers on Robben. He missed a penalty kick in the Champions League final against Chelsea and another in a vital late Bundesliga match for Bayern Munich against Borussia Dortmund.
"You have to turn the page," Robben said. "I have a new goal and that is the European Championship.'
For Van Bommel, too, he wants the title to get rid of the ghosts of the past, specifically losing the World Cup final.
"It stays with you for life," he said.
Associated Press writer Toby Sterling in Amsterdam contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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