Netherlands – Czech Republic: Dutch Crash Out With Zero Shots On Target (0-2)

A determined Czech Republic team decided to press man-for-man against the Netherlands. The Dutch responded with a lot of long balls, which made this an even game with plenty of duels in midfield and few chances. The game still scoreless, a 55th minute red card for Matthijs de Ligt tilted the match, as the Czechs scored two goals after that, while the Dutch finished the match without a single shot on target. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.

A group stage with nine points out of three, plenty of chances created and a favorable draw to get into the semi-final. The Dutch clearly had the wind in their sails going into this match.

At least, when looking from the outside. Some of the tactical aspects of the Dutch game plan are outdated to say the least, especially the total lack of protection in the middle of the pitch. As a result, the game against Ukraine was the most open game of the tournament and even North Macedonia created a couple of serious chances to score.

For this match, manager Frank de Boer stuck to his 3-4-1-2 formation. Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg was protected by a back three of Stefan de Vrij, Matthijs de Ligt and Daley Blind. Wing-backs Denzel Dumfries and Patrick van Aanholt flanked the midfield duo Frenkie de Jong and Marten de Roon, while Georginio Wijnaldum played as the number ten. Up front, Donyell Malen kept his place in the starting eleven in favor of Wout Weghorst, while Memphis Depay played his normal role: a roaming striker with freedom to come into midfield.

Czech Republic stuck to the 4-2-3-1 shape that got them through the group stage with one draw, one loss and one win. Without captain Vladimír Darida, Antonín Barák acted as the number ten behind limelight-grabber Patrick Schick. In holding midfield, the two Tomášes (Holeš and Souček) provided balance, organization and lots of running. At left back, right-footed Pavel Kadeřábek came in to replace the suspended Jan Bořil.

Plan for Dumfries, right? Right?

If there was one player that lit up the group stages for the Netherlands, it was Dumfries. His rushes and constant shuttling up and down the flank made him an integral part of the Netherlands’ attacking plan, while having to do very little buildup work clearly played into his strengths.

It was therefore very strange to see him completely unmarked in the first minute of the game at the second post. If Malen’s cross would have been better, this would have been a very different article, focusing on how in the world a team playing the Netherlands could overlook Dumfries in the first minute of the game.

Czech man-marking defines the match

After that early scare, there were largely positive things to tell about the Czech way to approach the game. Whenever the Dutch started their buildup, Czech Republic would mark man-for-man up front with five players.

11th minute. Man-marking from Czech Republic at the start of the Dutch buildup.

This was especially bold considering the lacking pace at the back with Tomáš Kalas and Ondřej Čelůstka, who were defending Malen and Memphis. Because the Netherlands went in behind very little, this was never a serious problem. The most dangerous run in behind was actually made by – you could have guessed it – Dumfries, in the 13th minute. After controlling the ball nicely, his cross (or shot?) was deflected and turned into a corner by Kalas.

All in all, it is fair to say the Czech game plan worked very well. The Netherlands resorted to playing long balls, lots of long balls. Most often aimed at Dumfries, hoping to pick up the second ball and launch their striking duo. However, the Czech defenders won most aerial duels; as a result, the ball mostly fell in midfield with lots of scrambling and jostling. Exactly what you to see if you’re managing the Czech Republic.

In the first half, the match featured ten shots, five for each team. Not a single big chance was created, as the ball was mostly in midfield… or in the air. To get an idea of exactly how unsuccessful Stekelenburg’s long passing was, take a look at the map below. 

Red card changes the match

After a silent opening five minutes of the second half, the game went berserk for sixty seconds in the 51st minute.

First Malen broke through against the Czech center-backs, making them look slow for the first time in the match. Instead of shooting or laying the ball off for a team mate, Malen attempted to round the goalkeeper and spectacularly failed.

The very next possession would end with a red card for the Netherlands. De Ligt clumsily misjudged a long ball and slipped after that. Instead of letting Schick having the one-versus-one with Stekelenburg, by reflex, he slapped the ball away with his hand. A red card followed; the perfect example of how quick a match of football can change.

The Dutch reaction was to play a 4-4-1 shape (4-2-3 in possession). De Boer brought on Quincy Promes for Malen and the Netherlands sat off more. A questionable decision to say the least, as Malen’s pace could have been very valuable on the counterattack, while Promes added next to nothing during his half hour on the pitch.

General positioning and movement of the unchanged Czech 4-2-3-1 shape against the Dutch 4-4-1 defensive formation.

Counted from the moment the game was ten-versus-eleven, Czech Republic had 53% possession. Whenever the Dutch won the ball, they could not get out of their own half for a counterattack and the ball was lost very quickly.

No shot on target… for the Dutch

This game state heavily favored the Czech Republic, but they did need a set piece to score, as they had very little going on in open play as well, despite pushing the Dutch team back.

After 68 minutes, Stekelenburg clumsily misjudged a set piece delivery from Barák. After being stuck in no-man’s land, the ball ended up at defensive midfielder Holeš, who tapped the ball in with his head. 

With the benefit of hindsight, we can say the game was over at this point. The Netherlands only had one shot in the entire second half. They would end the match without a single shot on target, which symbolizes their offensive problems. Especially Memphis put in one of his worst performances in the national team since making his debut in 2013. 

In the 81st minute, potential tournament top scorer Schick ended the contest as such. Standout player Holeš picked up a second ball in midfield, blitzed by Wijnaldum and Dumfries and set up Schick for a goal. 

De Boer’s switch to a 3-2-1-3 with Weghorst up front and young Jurriën Timber at the back did not result in anything, meaning the Dutch were knocked out after a very unspectacular last ten minutes of football.


The Czech team deserves a lot of praise. Thanks to their tactical plan, they turned this game into an even contest while having lesser players. In the end, they could have easily conceded to Malen’s one-on-one opportunity, but didn’t. If they can show the same bravery against the Danes and turn it into another game of fighting, they might even make it into the semi-final. Who would have thought? 

The Netherlands’ failure to adjust a not-functioning game plan cost them here. This time, individual quality did not bail the team out, as several of their key players suffered in this tactical context (Blind, De Jong, Wijnaldum) while others simply played a bad game (Depay, Van Aanholt). Some blame has to be put on De Ligt as well, who played well until the red card, but made a crucial defensive error and subsequent needless hand ball.

Now it’s time to zoom out and think about the future for the Dutch team, with or without De Boer. In two months, the Dutch play against the number one, three and four of their World Cup Qualification group. Some decisions have to be made, and quick, as this generation is simply too good to miss out on a World Cup. 

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Erik Elias (29) is co-founder of Between The Posts. Dutch, so admires Johan Cruijff and his football principles, but enjoys other styles as well. [ View all posts ]


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