Two trumpeters in orange shirts sat in the front row of the Budapest stadium. With chubby cheeks they confidently blew the Wilhelmus along. Always good to get a good start against the Czechs; they preferred to save their real steam for the final.
A Dutch person can never be denied a lack of self-confidence.
Max Verstappen had won Formula 1 – that was one – Mathieu van der Poel honored his grandfather ‘Poupou’ with a yellow jersey – that was two – and the Dutch national football team advanced to the quarter-finals in an hour and a half – that was three.
And as icing on the cake, the rainbow flag was allowed out of the pocket.
I was especially looking forward to an evening with Denzel Dumfries. He was close to scoring in the second minute. Dumfries has the ability to cover the entire field in that game system that everyone on and off the field was getting used to: 5-3-2.
If lung capacity were to determine success, the Netherlands would win every competition with Dumfries in the ranks.
While Memphis Depay sank into the swamp of good intentions and with his kicking technique barely got the ball in front of the goal from the corner flag, Georginio Wijnaldum mainly walked back and forth and Frenkie de Jong increasingly became the referee’s regular conversation partner, Dumfries died like a possessed over the field.
To play badly and still win, that seemed to be the motto.
Then Matthijs de Ligt touched the ball awkwardly with his hand. That happened to him often at Juventus. He was able to get off the field with red.
The trumpets of the fans could not breathe.
Would Dumfries still pull the team out of the valley? The midfielders and attackers hadn’t been expecting much for a while. Dumfries showed in the game that he had a great outstretched leg and his elbow was made of elastic, a Czech noticed.
The national coach exchanged Donyell Malen for Quincy Promes. In the tradition of ‘Arjen Robben for Paul Bosvelt in 2004’, that could become a much discussed substitution in the coming days.
Maybe make the mouth caps mandatory during the discussions in the country.
Dumfries could not turn the tide. I could smile at him one last time. After a delay I saw him jump up at the same time as the Czech goalkeeper. Denzel reached out for the ball.
Dumfries did an imitation of ‘The Hand of God’ by Maradona. Then I knew for sure, the Netherlands was eliminated.
The team could see this dark cloud hanging over Budapest all through the second half. The game was not good. That’s why there were few tears afterwards. Memphis did not want to exchange his shirt, Wijnaldum was lost in thought and substitute Wout Weghorst looked like a house painter looking for his staircase leather.
The trumpets lay in the lap of the fans. In the tradition of the ingenious football system, the countdown was blown: 5-3-2 … 0.
Wilfried de Jong is a writer and program maker.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 28, 2021