Downcast after her nation's exit from UEFA Women's EURO 2013, Dyanne Bito struggled to find the words to explain just how the Netherlands already find themselves on their way home. "That's a difficult question," the full-back replied when asked to dissect the squad's performance in Sweden, where they failed to the net in 270 minutes and finished bottom of Group B with a single point.
The situation is all the more puzzling given that, four years ago, women's football in the Netherlands appeared to have a future as bright as the team's traditional orange shirts. Though not the most spectacular side in Finland, Vera Pauw's squad surprised many as they reached the semi-finals of a UEFA Women's EURO for the first time. Having qualified again for the finals playing a more adventurous game under Pauw's successor Roger Reijners, the mood in the camp was bullish.
That optimism was understandably bolstered by a goalless draw with champions Germany last Thursday, which seemed the ideal introduction to the tournament. In the end, it was to prove the highpoint, with a listless display in a 1-0 defeat by Norway followed up by the same demoralising scoreline in the decisive final group match against Iceland.
The latter encounter – which, had it ended in victory, would still have taken Reijners' team through to the last eight – showed the two faces of the Dutch squad. They mixed attractive approach play with frustration in front of goal caused by both Iceland goalkeeper Gudbjörg Gunnarsdóttir's sure-handedness and their own desperation as their chance of progress slipped through their fingers.
"I think we were too hasty to get to the goal and didn't pass the ball around as we usually do," said the 31-year-old Bito, part of the Netherlands rearguard caught out by the late run of Dagný Brynjarsdóttir to head home a high ball and seal both sides' fate after half an hour at the Växjö Arena. "The first ball we let through resulted in a goal and it was difficult to get our game going after that."
The biggest 'what ifs', though, will surely be reserved for that opening fixture. With the team in front of her unflinchingly compact, goalkeeper Loes Geurts watched as opposite number Nadine Angerer denied the Dutch on a clutch of occasions. That inability to beat the veteran German, initially forgotten in the euphoria of what looked a notable success, cast a longer and darker shadow at full time on Wednesday evening.
"It was a good experience to be here. I think the first game was really great from us but then the second game, our standard of play really dropped and we didn't stick to our game plan," said a deflated and bemused Bito in the minutes after her country's exit. "I think that was the thing today also, that we didn't play our game. I think we'll learn something from this, but right now I can't explain what exactly."
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