Widely considered one of the pre-tournament favourites, behind Spain and Germany, the 2010 FIFA World Cup runners-up lost what coach Bert van Marwijk had billed 'the most important game of the tournament', succumbing 1-0 to Denmark in their Group B opener.
Time and again, attacks were launched on the Danish goal but on each and every occasion the Oranje fell short. "You do have to score from one of them if you want to win," said Van Marwijk.
The Danes proved more clinical with Michael Krohn-Dehli, with his Dutch girlfriend cheering him on, doing the damage. Dennis Rommedahl's Dutch wife was probably the only other Dutch national who applauded their victory.
Yesterday's match stats highlighted the Danes' efficiency. Both teams had eight attempts on target but the Netherlands also had 20 attempts off target – including an effort from Arjen Robben that came back off a post – compared to Denmark's none.
Such numbers only served to heighten the disappointment among the 10,000 Dutch supporters in the Metalist Stadium and the 7.5m who were watching back home. "Dramatic defeat for Oranje" read De Telegraaf's online headline.
Despite the gloom, however, the Dutch do have some hope to cling on to: their attacking game is alive and well, they boast a squad of unquestionable quality and they even have history on their side.
"It's a huge setback," said Rafael Van der Vaart, "but I believe that they started exactly like this in 1988. So that is what we will hold on to: we have to win twice now, that is what we have to do."
At the 1988 UEFA European Championship the Netherlands also lost their opening match 1-0 against the USSR, before finding their stride. Marco van Basten's hat-trick sank England, Wim Kieft's header edged out the Republic of Ireland and Van Basten again decided the semi-final against West-Germany. In the final the Oranje avenged their opening loss to the USSR with goals by Ruud Gullit and Van Basten's famous volley.
This time, however, Germany will not wait until the semi-final; they will be their very next opponents on Wednesday.
Yes, Rafael. It's time to start winning.
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