If I’d written this a day or so after our defeat to Argentina, it would have been a depressing piece about how it really is the hope that kills you, but having taken some time to reflect on it, the pain I feel is outweighed by pride.
That’s saying something, because the match did inflict *a lot* of pain, perhaps as much as any other asides from the 2010 final.
When we were 2-0 down, I felt disappointed but somewhat at peace with us being knocked out. We’d come up against a better team who, with the greatest player of all time firing on all cylinders for them, were too good. Fine.
And then Louis van Gaal launched his Plan B and took us all on a journey full of the most intense emotions.
I can confidently say I’ve never celebrated a goal as much as I celebrated Wout Weghorst’s equaliser and have never been more amped up during a football match than I was after it.
At that point, I really, deeply believed that we’d go through and the match would become one of Oranje’s greatest ever, I felt it in my bones, which made the eventual loss far more painful than it would have been had Weghorst not taken us to extra time.
In the immediate aftermath, I wished that he hadn’t, feeling that the elation wasn’t worth the agony that followed, but I’ve since changed my mind.
I still don’t think the joy of that goal outweighed the pain of the defeat, but the pride I feel for my team does.
I’ve seen the Netherlands in dire situations a number of times in my 24 years supporting them and so often they haven’t been mentally strong enough to get out of them.
On multiple occasions, our players have given up, lost their heads and/or started to argue with one another when the going has gotten tough.
They have also of course risen to the occasion at times too, such as when they turned things around against Brazil in 2010 and Mexico in 2014, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Dutch team quite as unified and determined as this one.
Van Gaal obviously deserves a huge amount of credit for getting us back into the game, with his substitutions and tactical changes being spot on as they usually have been with him, but even more impressive for me in the closing stages of the opening 90 minutes were his players.
Not a single one of them lost hope or let their head drop for a single second, even when two goals behind with just 10 minutes of normal time remaining, even with refereeing decisions constantly going against them, even with their opponents doing everything they could to rile them up and make them lose focus of the task at hand.
And when the game did descend into chaos, every single member of our squad was willing to fight for one another, showing a togetherness that has rarely before been seen in a Netherlands camp.
They gave absolutely everything for their manager, for their country and for each other, and we haven’t always been able to say that about Oranje sides.
Team spirit has always one of our biggest weaknesses, but now it’s one of our biggest strengths.
That would have made the defeat all the more depressing if this was the last tournament this group had together, that we couldn’t make the most of it.
However, it won’t be. While there will inevitably be some changes, the core of the squad should remain the same for Euro 2024.
Given that, I think that we should all leave this World Cup with some real excitement for the future. It’s a close, cohesive group full of multiple players that are only going to get better in the next year or so and many others who shouldn’t be any worse than they are now.
They’ll be led by Ronald Koeman, a man who got us to a Nations League final, ensured we qualified for the Euros with ease and masterminded impressive victories over Portugal, France, Germany (x2) and England.
Things weren’t perfect, with the football often being painfully dull and some personnel choices he made being baffling, but I’m still confident he’ll be able to build upon the strong foundations Van Gaal has laid in the last year and a half.
All of that excitement is mixed with some sadness over the fact that we’re losing Van Gaal and couldn’t give him the send-off he deserved so much.
Sure, this tournament may not have been his finest hour, but the excellent recovery job he did to get us to Qatar shouldn’t be forgotten, and in the final page of his Oranje career he reminded us all of what a genius he is with the way he got got us back into the game.
Ultimately, he didn’t lose any of our 12 World Cup matches that he took charge off and could well have been the man to make us World Champions for the first time if we were better at taking penalties. In a fairer world, he would have been, and I for one will miss him dearly.
When one door closes though, another one opens, and I can’t wait to see what’s behind it.