Netherlands may have missed two major tournaments in a row but Ronald Koeman’s side has restored some confidence in Oranje ahead of the Euro 2020 campaign.

  • By Michael Bell
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On the 23rd of March last year, Ronald Koeman stepped into the Netherlands dugout for the first time as Netherlands hosted England in Amsterdam.

The former defender wanted to be Louis van Gaal’s successor after the 2014 World Cup but the KNVB inexplicably went with the ‘safer’ option of Guus Hiddink, which kicked off a four-year national crisis which saw Netherlands not only go through two other coaches (Danny Blind and Dick Advocaat) but also miss out on Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, before knocking on the 56-year-old’s door.

It was clear when Koeman took over that he had a major task on his hands with the golden generation of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart no longer available. A new set of youngsters had to come through but a poor and lethargic 1-0 defeat in his first match against England didn’t do much to breathe new optimism into his side.

However, fast forward a year and Netherlands head into a new qualifying campaign full of confidence, thanks to the unexpected success during the UEFA Nations League.

After being drawn with France and Germany, the expectation was that Netherlands would be lucky to avoid relegation, while many predicted four defeats out of four.

Instead, Netherlands played some of their best football in years and a 2-0 win over World Champions France and a 3-0 hammering of Germany led to Oranje topping their group and booking themselves a semi-final against England later this year.

Speaking to FIFA.com, Koeman said on the Nations League, “That was fantastic because it was clear that no-one expected us to win a group with France and Germany. I actually think the key game was the first one (2-1 defeat to France in Paris), even though we lost. We really played well despite the result and the players saw that they could compete against the world champions and took a lot of confidence from it.”

Netherlands are now expected to compete against the best sides in Europe again and that is down to the confidence that Koeman has restored, but also the fact that a number of great talents are starting to come through once again to form a new golden generation.

Memphis Depay is maligned for his performances at Lyon but when he pulls on an Oranje jersey he is a player transformed. Playing as the central striker, his pace, trickery and unpredictability has made Netherlands a constant threat on the counter-attack.

Brilliant forwards have always been a feature of the great Oranje sides but there is an argument to say Netherlands biggest strengths at the moment come in its defence. Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk is on course to be named player of the year in the Premier League and has formed a solid partnership with Ajax sensation Matthijs de Ligt. The duo has the potential to go down as the greatest Netherlands centre-back pairing of all-time.

Then there is the midfield, which has been the biggest issue since Louis van Gaal left. Hiddink, Blind and Advocaat all tried to make a Kevin Strootman and Georginio Wijnaldum partnership work, but under Koeman, the latter has been dropped and Frenkie de Jong has breathed new life into the system which has been changed from 5-3-2 back to the favoured 4-3-3. The soon to be Barcelona star’s ability to dribble with the ball has turned Netherlands from a sideways passing team back to forward thinking. His ability to draw players to him has also freed up Wijnaldum to star further up the pitch.

De Ligt, van Dijk, De Jong and Memphis are the new spine of Koeman’s Oranje but there are plenty of other talents also making waves in the Eredivisie. Donny van de Beek is a big part of Ajax’s Champions League run to the quarterfinals, while Steven Bergwijn and Denzel Dumfries are stars of the table-topping PSV Eindhoven. All three will also play a role in reaching the European Championships next year.

On Thursday, the Euro qualification begins with Netherlands hosting Belarus before coming face to face with Germany once again on Sunday in Amsterdam. No longer is the talk focused on the fact that Dutch football is on a downward spiral and instead there is genuine excitement about Koeman’s side that should lead the country back to where it belongs.

“Well, expectations now for the team are far higher now than when we came in – and that’s good,” Koeman told FIFA.com. “Big things will be expected of us in the EURO qualifiers and that reflects the results and performances we’ve had. It’s a big change, and a good one because when we took over the fans were not at all positive about the national team. Fortunately, results have been encouraging, and the fans now see in the players the kind of happiness that they expect from those who represent the national team.”

It is clear from the positive vibes around the training camp and in the media that confidence and expectations are now high with Netherlands. Hopefully, that will now lead to Oranje being a force at the European Championships next year.




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