Monday, July 12, 2010
Welcome-home fete awaits Dutch team
THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Two fighter jets, one of them orange, escorted the Netherlands soccer team through Dutch airspace Monday, a day after the loss in the World Cup final.
The staff at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport formed an honor guard when the plane touched down. The team was whisked by bus to a hotel on the North Sea coast.
A series of welcome-home events await Tuesday, including a meeting with Queen Beatrix at her palace in The Hague in the morning followed by a boat tour through Amsterdam's canals and a party in the city's Museum Square.
The events may help both players and fans shake off the country's third loss in a World Cup final. The latest one was a 1-0 defeat in extra time to Spain in Johannesburg.
Among the headlines in Dutch newspapers was "Not Again" above pictures of dejected Dutch players following the final whistle. The Netherlands also lost to hosts West Germany and Argentina in 1974 and '78.
The Algemeen Dagblad daily's headline was "Orange tears."
For Chris Nielen, a 38-year-old sales manager who watched the match at a bar in a crowded square in The Hague, it was the third loss of his lifetime.
"In '74, I was in diapers. In '78, we were closer when we hit the post in the second half," he said. "Now, we have to wait another 32 years."
Jesse van Straaten said that the Netherlands could have won if it had been more efficient in front of goal.
"Honestly, Spain was better -- I recognize that," he said. "But we had the chances."
Police across the country reported minor disturbances as fans fought and let off fireworks at the end of the match.
In The Hague, riot police had to disperse a crowd at one square that had been the scene of previous disturbances during the World Cup, and in the eastern town of Zwolle they arrested a man with a gun and were investigating whether the weapon had been fired.
In Amsterdam on Monday, scores of dejected fans using Dutch flags as blankets woke up on the platforms of the city's Central Station after missing the last trains home.
More than 100,000 orange-clad fans watched the match on giant screens at the city's Museum Square but quickly and relatively quietly left after Andres Iniesta's extra-time goal shattered their dreams of finally shaking the tag of the best team never to win the World Cup. Litter left in their wake included trampled orange vuvuzelas, a reminder of the droning soundtrack of the World Cup in South Africa.
A Dutch foundation that monitors television ratings said 8.5 million people watched the final at home, making it one of the most-watched broadcasts in the country's history.
Amid the disappointment was pride that a nation of just 16 million had reached the final, knocking out five-time champion Brazil along the way thanks to a 2-1 quarterfinal victory in Port Elizabeth that will likely be remembered as the team's best performance.
"Fought like lions," said the front-page headline in best-selling daily De Telegraaf next to a photo of striker Robin van Persie and winger Arjen Robben holding their heads in their hands, Robben on his knees on the Soccer City turf.