Ukraine, Jun14: They arrived with a star-studded squad and genuine hopes of the title. After two lackluster displays, the Netherlands are down and almost out of the European Championship.
A 2-1 loss to archrival Germany on Wednesday left the Dutch bottom of Group B with no points after two matches and reaching for the calculator to determine how they can stay alive in the tournament.
“This is a big blow but we must remain believers,” said playmaker Wesley Sneijder, arguably the Netherlands' best player against Germany.
This group was always likely to be the toughest of the four at Euro 2012 but no one expected the Dutch to be in the situation they find themselves six days after their opening game.
Germany has six points and needs one more against Denmark on Sunday to guarantee advancing. Portugal and Denmark are on three points.
For the Netherlands to go through, they must beat Portugal by at least a two-goal margin and hope Denmark loses to Germany.
“We still have a chance, so we have to believe in it,” Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk said. “And the players think just the same way about this.”
For all their swagger and pedigree, no Dutch player thought this was in the realm of possibility a week ago. They reached the World Cup final only two years ago, after all.
“There is this sense of disbelief,” Sneijder said.
Winger Arjen Robben challenged Germany to “fulfill its duty” by beating the Danes.
“Then we have our destiny in our hands by winning by a two-goal margin,” the Bayern Munich winger said. “But being dependent (on Germany) doesn't feel good.”
Had Portugal not scored a late winner against Denmark only hours before the Dutch loss to Germany, the Netherlands would be out.
Failing to advance to the knockout stage would mark the worst Dutch performance at international level since they failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
This summer, goals were supposed to come freely with the likes of in-form strikers Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in the squad. When not a single one came in a 1-0 loss to Denmark, it was already called little short of miraculous.
When Germany raced to a 2-0 lead with the Dutch strikers again quiet on Wednesday, it felt just as strange.
A late goal from Van Persie failed to dent the confidence of the Germans, who played out the game in the swelter of an eastern Ukraine night with surprising ease.
A midnight flight took the Dutch team back 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) to Krakow, Poland, for two more days of training before facing Portugal, against whom they have a history of losing on the big stage.
In 2004, the Netherlands lost to the Portuguese in the semifinals of the European Championship. Two years later, they lost to them again in the second round of the World Cup.
It does not augur well.
Especially since Portugal's star forward Cristiano Ronaldo will seek to finally come alive in a tournament in which he has been as off-key as his Dutch counterparts.
Even though their situation is a lot healthier, the Portuguese will look for a victory as much as the Dutch.
“Two goals' difference and that is what you hold on to,” said Huntelaar.