There is little doubt that Holland are among the favourites to win Euro 2012. For that to happen however, a number of key players will have to perform, and none more so than goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
The shot-stopper, who joined Serie A giants Roma from Ajax last summer, is one of the finest custodians in world football and Euro 2012 is yet another stage on which to demonstrate that fact.
Inside Futbol went to speak to Stekelenburg about Holland’s chances at the tournament, the country’s best players, and his personal views on the teams to watch in Poland/Ukraine:
Inside Futbol (IF): After the amazing achievement of 2010, when you reached the World Cup final, is the pressure greater on Holland at Euro 2012?
Maarten Stekelenburg (MS): The pressure is always high with the Dutch national team. We are one of the best teams in the world and obviously there are always great expectations. I think that, after our impressive World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the expectations are even higher for us.
IF: In contrast to previous Dutch teams, the spirit in the camp appeared to be fantastic throughout the World Cup – what was it like to be part of a group with that team ethic.
MS: I think the spirit was always great, but sometimes in football you need some luck. I mean, there are crucial moments in football and in those moments you can go up or fall down. We had that moment when we beat Brazil in South Africa and the feeling we could win grew after that match. Then we beat Uruguay in the semi-final and we had a great match against Spain in the final, but that match against the Brazilians was the turning point.
IF: What is coach Bert van Marwijk’s approach like in the dressing room?
MS: It is very easy and relaxed. I mean, he’s not a complicated manager, he’s very clear with his players and he contributes to creating the good spirit inside the dressing room.
IF: Do you think that he and the players have learned from the nightmare of losing in the 2010 final? What was that night like?
MS: I don’t think we made mistakes in the last World Cup. We had a wonderful tournament and we reached the final, so where are the mistakes? We all know that Spain are a great team, difficult to beat. But if you saw that game, we had some clear chances to win the match, but we missed them, probably at decisive moments – that’s football. I don’t think though that we can call them mistakes.
IF: In what ways has Italian football helped you as a goalkeeper since the World Cup?
MS: Obviously it helps to play in Italy. The opponents are a lot better than in Holland and personally it is fantastic for me to have a new experience in my career in a foreign country. I am sure it makes me a better goalkeeper.
IF: Were you close to joining Arsenal by the way?
MS: That’s strange and funny, because I also read it in the newspapers. To be frank though, my manager and I never had any contact with Arsenal.
IF: We all know about “total football”, but how would you describe the philosophy of the 2012 Holland team?
MS: I think it is not really that different than in previous years. You know, Holland is famous for its style usually known as “total football”, and I am convinced that we are trying to follow this path with the national team. So, I can describe our style as a good attacking style of play, with some very good defensive backup.
IF: Is Robin van Persie the best centre forward at Euro 2012? What do you make of him as a player and a person?
MS: He is obviously one of the best strikers in the world at the moment, but he’s not the only good player that we have up front. Look at what Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is doing at Schalke. He scored a lot of goals in the Bundesliga and in the Europa League too. With these two and all the other options. I think that up front we have a lot of possibilities.
IF: Tell us about the rivalry between Holland v Germany. And what would it mean to you and the fans to beat them at Euro 2012?
MS: There has always been a rivalry between us and them, so it is fantastic we are in the same group at the Euro in Poland and the Ukraine. Obviously there is rivalry also between the fans and for us this is even more motivation to beat them this summer.
IF: Are there any childhood memories you have of famous Germany vs Holland games?
MS: There were a lot of Germany-Holland matches in the past. We beat them in the semi-final at Euro 1988 in Germany and in the same competition in Sweden four years later. But they beat us at the World Cup in Italy in 1990, so I think there will be another chapter in the history of this great rivalry.
IF: Denmark look like an improving side. What are your thoughts on them and their young star Christian Eriksen?
MS: I remember we played them in the last World Cup in the group stage (Holland won 2-0). They are a very good team and I remember Christian Eriksen very well. Eriksen is probably their best talent and he could be one of the youngsters who impresses at Euro 2012; he will be for sure. The match against the Danish will be our first encounter in the group, so I expect it to be a very tough game.
IF: Then of course, there is Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. Is he still the most talented player at Euro 2012? Or is there another?
MS: Obviously Cristiano Ronaldo does not need an introduction – we all know he is a wonderful player. But in a competition such as the European Championship, we have other great players, some already known and some that we will discover during the tournament.
IF: Which underdogs are you tipping to do well?
MS: I would pick Spain as clear favourites, but I also like Germany, and Italy could represent underdogs. Oh, and Holland of course; we were underdogs in South Africa and we did so well.
IF: And what of England? Can they cope without their best player Wayne Rooney in their first two games?
MS: Wayne Rooney is a great player and it is a pity for England that he is suspended for the first two matches. Although, also without him, I think England have a great team and can do very well in the tournament. We beat them in a friendly at Wembley in February this year, but they will be one of the teams that challenge for sure.
IF: Finally, if Holland don’t win Euro 2012, who do you believe has the best chance, and why?
MS: For me, and not only for me, Spain are the best team in the world. They play wonderful football, a nice and entertaining passing game, so they are the clear favourites at Euro 2012 – the team to beat for everyone.