In the build-up to Tuesday's match between Holland and Ghana there was one thought that I couldn't shake: please lovely Ghana, spare our vulnerable stars and let them leave the pitch unharmed.
The nightmare unfolding in my mind had something to do with Wesley Sneijder or Robin van Persie leaving the field in heart-breaking agony. Luckily, that didn't happen and Holland went on to win quite easily: 4-1. Since friendly games in which Holland participates usually bore the average football lover to death, or at least unconsciousness, I wasn't planning on paying any attention to this match on the ESPN Netherlands Blog.
But then I read the article on the Ghana blog about the match in which their players are being graded, and more specifically the polite announcement of my Ghanaian colleague that for those readers interested in the grades of the Dutch players, they would have to visit the Dutch World Cup blog, and I thought to myself; someone just forced me to actually write something about a friendly match involving Holland! Thanks, Gary Al-Smith for making me do this!
In short, Holland's play didn't excite anyone but Ghana's goalkeeper Kingson, who acted like a retired circus clown all night long. The first half saw a very weak Ghana and a lacklustre Dutch team that managed to put one in via Kuyt's rebound. Luckily, the second half provided some excitement, but only after Rafael van der Vaart entered the fray and did a nice job of proving to Van Marwijk why he needs to be in the starting line-up.
A nice combination with Sneijder and Van Bommel carried Van der Vaart cleanly through the middle of the Ghana defence and one-on-one with Kingson, after which scoring was a formality. After attempting a beautiful lob from forty meters out, which Kingson was barely able to tip over the bar, Van der Vaart swung-in a placed corner towards Sneijder, who had no problem netting it on the volley from 25 meters out. To put the cherry on the cake, Van der Vaart earned the penalty kick that Van Persie converted with a lot of confidence. Needless to say, Rafael van der Vaart played well, but what about the other Orangemen? Let's see..
GK: Michel Vorm - 6. Must have thought that Ghana was only Matthew Amoah and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, as they were the only ones who came inside the penalty area in the first half. Did a good job of picking up some lost Jabulani's from the pitch.
RB: Gregory van der Wiel - 8. Showed why he is Holland's number one right-back and a world-class player waiting to happen. Solid defence and some nice attacking moves, including the pass on Van der Vaart that led to the penalty kick.
CB: John Heitinga - 7. We're slowly starting to get used to these steady and convincing performances from John. That in itself is a huge compliment.
CB: Joris Mathijsen - 6. Played just as well as Heitinga, until his communication break-down with Van Bronckhorst that lead to Ghana's only goal. Cannot make those mistakes in SA.
LB: Giovanni van Bronckhorst - 7. Was quickly able to control Owusu-Abeyie and participated in attack as well. Was implicated in Ghana's goal too, but we'll forgive him, for now.
CDM: Mark van Bommel - 8. Slowly but surely starting to look very much like that fantastic captain playing for Bayern Munchen this season.
CDM: Nigel de Jong - 9. Did everything he was asked to do and then some. Tenacious, well-positioned, accurate in his passing and very dynamic. What more can you ask for?
RAM: Dirk Kuyt - 7. Worked hard and scored a goal; the things you expect from Kuyt. Will be instrumental in containing the opposition while providing a spark in offense when Holland faces the likes of Brazil or Spain; surplus to requirement when Holland faces a weaker opponent.
CAM: Wesley Sneijder - 8. This man has got some game! Exquisite passing, supreme vision and beautiful technique. With an in-form Sneijder, Holland can beat anyone.
LAM: Ibrahim Afellay - 7. Continued his great form and is becoming a serious option on the left-flank, at least as a back-up to Arjen Robben.
ST: Robin van Persie - 8. Didn't excel but showed his beautiful skill at times, like when he received a through-pass from Sneijder and positioned himself for the shot in one move while receiving the ball and spinning around. Pure class. I nominate him for Golden Ball winner, just in case.
GK - Sander Boschker - 6. Had a quiet night on his debut at the age of 39 (!!!). Wasn't to blame for the conceded goal and showed himself a reliable back-up of the back-up.
AM: Rafael van der Vaart - 9. Was involved in three goals in the thirty minutes he played. Provided extra creativity and did almost everything right. This man deserves a spot in the starting eleven.
AM: Ryan Babel - 6. Recovering from injury, he wasn't able to show why Van Marwijk chose him over Lens. This will come though. Babel is the type of player that can turn around an entire game simply on the merits of his speed and agility.
AM: Eljero Elia - N/A. Didn't play long enough to be graded.
Itâ€™s obvious there are some players who will need the practice between now and the 14th of July, most notably Robin van Persie. I wouldn't worry about that too much though, since the real test will come much later; in the second round and beyond. With that in mind, Holland seems to be in good shape. The team is solid and the players know what to expect. With the games against Denmark, Japan and Cameroon possibly serving as a warm-up and build-up, Holland will hopefully peak at the right moment.