Netherlands continue their quest to qualify for the 2018 World Cup on Saturday with a tricky away tie in Sofia against Bulgaria.

The 3-1 win over Luxembourg in November has kept Netherlands in second place behind Group A leaders France but with Sweden breathing down Oranje’s necks in third, Danny Blind’s side need to win in Sofia to keep control of the potential playoff spot and maintain any hopes of finishing top.

Bulgaria have won their two home matches so far, but they were slim victories over Belarus (1-0) and Luxembourg (4-3). They were no match for either Sweden (0-3) or France (1-4) when playing away from Sofia. However, if Bulgaria can win on Saturday they will overtake Netherlands and keep their chances of second alive.

During his press conference on Friday, Blind stated that has respect for Bulgaria but that there is no need to fear them, “We have respect for Bulgaria, a serious opponent, but no fear.”

Georginio Wijnaldum is also clear on what needs done on Saturday, “We know what we have to do: win tomorrow.”

Team news

Blind’s squad has been hit by injuries before the tie in Sofia with Vincent Janssen joining first choice centre-back pairing Virgil van Dijk and Jeffrey Bruma on the sidelines for the game. Lazio defender Stefan de Vrij is a major doubt for the tie as well after suffering a shin injury. Should de Vrij not make it then 17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt or Wesley Hoedt will battle to make their debut alongside Bruno Martins Indi in defence. Luuk de Jong was called-up to replace Janssen but Bas Dost should be given the nod to start.

The major boost for Blind is the return of captain Arjen Robben who has missed most of the qualifiers through injury. The coach will have to decide on whether to start with a winger such as Memphis Depay or Quincy Promes on the left or opt for the experience of Wesley Sneijder.

Possible Netherlands XI: Zoet, Karsdorp, Blind, Martins Indi, De Vrij/Hoedt, Strootman, Wijnaldum, Klaassen, Robben, Promes, Dost

Bulgaria will have to do without first choice goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov who is injured, meaning ex-Twente man Nikolay Mihaylov should start between the sticks. CSKA Moscow midfielder Georgi Milanov and captain Svetoslav Dyakov have also been forced to drop out of the squad.

Possible Bulgaria XI: Mihaylov, Manolev, Zanev, Bozhikov, Bodurov, Tonev, Chochev, Slavchev, Tsvetkov, Popov, Delev

Previous Meetings

The two nations have met on ten occasions with Netherlands only coming out on top in four of those matches, with Bulgaria also winning four. The last meeting came in 2012 when Bulgaria stunned Netherlands 2-1 in a friendly.

Odds

Bulgaria 6/1 Draw 3/1 Netherlands 1/2

Key Players

Arjen Robben

The Netherlands captain is fit again and ready to lead Netherlands charge to the World Cup. Arguably Netherlands only world class player at the moment, Oranje will look to the winger to provide the spark in attack and break down the Bulgarian defence. The 33-year-old has been in outstanding form for Bayern Munich again this season with eleven goals in 26 appearances and he will look for his 32 international goal in what will be his 90th cap. Netherlands will be smart to give the ball to Robben as much as possible.

Ivelin Popov

The 29-year-old is Bulgaria’s key man in midfield and will pose a threat to the Netherlands defence. Popov plays for Russian side Spartak Moscow and has 12 goals in 66 appearances for Bulgaria, making him their top scorer in the squad. Interestingly Popov spent some time in the Feyenoord academy early in his career but did not win a permanent deal with the Rotterdammers.

Bas Dost

Dost is on fire at the moment for Sporting Lisbon, scoring 24 league goals in 23 matches which puts him only behind Edison Cavani and Lionel Messi as the top scorer in European football. The 27-year-old has yet to be given a real chance in Oranje during his career but that will change on Saturday with Dost set to start after Janssen’s withdrawal. The lanky forwards threat in the air will be a big weapon for Netherlands and they should be looking to whip crosses into the box as much as possible. Dost only has one goal to his name in 11 caps.

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