AMSTERDAM • As the Netherlands ambled meekly towards the light, there was a moment that encapsulated their miserable failure to qualify for Euro 2016 after Tuesday's 2-3 home loss to the Czech Republic.
Wesley Sneijder, one of the Dutch heroes when the Oranje made the 2010 World Cup final, picked up possession just inside the visitors' half.
He looked up, assessed his options and saw nothing. Just players standing still, frightened, timid, afraid to receive a pass to feet. And so he hit a long, aimless ball all the way through to Petr Cech.
STATE OF PLAY ON ROAD TO EURO 2016 FINALS
Twenty countries are through to the Euro 2016 Finals, including hosts France, with all the qualifying games completed.
The remaining four finalists will be decided after the two-legged play-offs are held between Nov 12 and 17.
GROUP A: Iceland, Czech Republic
GROUP B: Belgium, Wales
GROUP C: Spain, Slovakia
GROUP D: Germany, Poland
GROUP E: England, Switzerland
GROUP F: Northern Ireland, Romania
GROUP G: Austria, Russia
GROUP H: Italy, Croatia
GROUP I: Portugal, Albania
BEST 3RD-PLACED TEAM: Turkey (Group A)
EIGHT TEAMS TO PLAY-OFFS
GROUP B: Bosnia *
GROUP C: Ukraine *
GROUP D: Ireland
GROUP E: Slovenia
GROUP F: Hungary *
GROUP G: Sweden *
GROUP H: Norway
GROUP I: Denmark
The play-off draw is on Sunday.
TEAMS WHO MISSED OUT ON MAJOR TOURNAMENTS
THE NETHERLANDS (2002 WORLD CUP)
The Oranje's failure to qualify for next year's European Championship has echoes of 2002, when they missed the boat to the World Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan. Then, a team with stars like Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edgar Davids and Jaap Stam and coached by Louis van Gaal finished third in their qualifying group behind Portugal and the Republic of Ireland.
ENGLAND (1974, 1978 AND 1994 WORLD CUPS, EURO 2008)
The Three Lions, one of the world's most popular teams, missed out on consecutive World Cups in 1974 and 1978. They flopped again in 1994 with a team containing Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne. England also failed to qualify for the 2008 European Championship with a home defeat by Croatia, leading to the sacking of Steve McClaren.
PORTUGAL (1998 WORLD CUP)
Although blessed with a golden generation of brilliant footballers like Luis Figo and Rui Costa, Portugal were sent packing in the 1998 World Cup qualifiers. It was even more astonishing that it was the third World Cup Finals in a row they had missed out on.
FRANCE (1994 WORLD CUP)
Coached by future Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier and featuring top stars like Eric Cantona and Jean-Pierre Papin, Les Bleus needed just a point at the end of their 1994 World Cup qualifying campaign against Israel and Bulgaria. But they lost both games, on each occasion going down to injury-time goals.
David Ginola gave away the ball for Bulgaria's winner.
Wang Meng Meng
Danny Blind, the Netherlands' beleaguered manager, briefly looked like he was going to explode on the touchline. But he shrugged his shoulders instead.
What has become of Dutch football? The pioneers of Total Football were reduced to total desperation - the kind of putrid football that has never been associated with the Netherlands before.
Few people could have predicted that the fall would be so dramatic. After all, the Netherlands beat Brazil to third place at last year's World Cup. Many were swept up by the splendour of their 5-1 win over Spain in their opener.
Louis van Gaal's counter-attacking tactics allowed Arjen Robben to run riot in a central role and Spain never recovered from that humbling defeat.
The Netherlands had been expected to struggle in a tough group. Instead, buoyed by that victory over the world and European champions, they went through in first place.
Yet, Dutch legend Johan Cruyff has since argued that finishing third masked their flaws. Their football was never convincing during the knockout stages.
And the cracks were on display in this qualifying campaign.
It ended with the Dutch conceding two first-half goals in a competitive home game for the first time since October 2000, when they fell 0-2 to Portugal.
Even when the Czechs were down to 10 men following Marek Suchy's 43rd-minute sending-off, the scoreline widened.
Robin van Persie inexplicably headed into his own net in the 66th minute to make it 0-3.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and van Persie scored at the other end to reduce the deficit. But by that point, the damage had been done and the Dutch will miss a major tournament for the first time since the 2002 World Cup.
They have not failed to qualify for a European Championship since 1984.
The truth is that even a win on the night would not have been enough. The Dutch needed to beat the already-qualified Czechs and hope Turkey would lose at home to already-qualified Iceland to salvage third place in Group A and a play-off spot.
In the end, neither happened, with Turkey beating Iceland 1-0.
"I have no intention to step down. I'm going to carry on with my work because I'm under contract until 2018 and I believe in this team," Blind, who replaced Guus Hiddink in July, said after his third loss in four qualifiers.
"Am I the one to blame? I now have to analyse that," he added.
The 1988 European champions have lost eight of their 14 matches since the World Cup. The four wins in qualifying came against Latvia and Kazakhstan.
It is hard not to reason that previous Dutch sides would have qualified from a group that also included Iceland - whose golden generation finished second of Group A on 20 points, an improving Turkey (18) and the ever-dangerous Czechs (22).
Yet, their best players have aged. Sneijder, 31, has dipped since winning the treble with Inter Milan in 2010. Robben, 31, was absent against the Czechs with injury, and 32-year-old van Persie's decline was typified by his slow- motion own goal on Tuesday.
International retirement beckons for van Persie, a striker regarded as one of the best in the world two years ago. And the Netherlands cannot rely on Robben's brilliance for too much longer.
They continue to produce good players but the fear is that they are producing nothing special.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE