Michael Bell gives you the lowdown on Matthijs de Ligt and Wesley Hoedt, who were named for the first time in the Netherlands squad on Friday.
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It was a surprise when Danny Blind named 17-year-old Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt in his squad on Friday but the youngster’s development this season has been incredible.
De Ligt excelled for Ajax’s U19 side last season, and despite only being 16-years-old he made his debut for Jong Ajax in the Eerste Divisie in August. Peter Bosz was clearly impressed by the youngster and handed him his first-team debut in the KNVB Cup against Willem II weeks later, with De Ligt netting in a 5-0 win. Immediately afterwards, Ajax announced on their website that the 17-year-old would be promoted to their first team squad.
Since then De Ligt has made six Eredivisie appearances and has played his part in Ajax’s journey to the Quarter-Finals of the Europa League. He started both legs of the last 16 tie with Copenhagen and was named man of the match in the 2-0 win at the Amsterdam Arena, which sealed his place in Blind’s squad.
At over 6ft and built like a tank, De Ligt is physically beyond his years, but the most impressive aspect of his performances is the command he has on the ball and a reading of the game which is equal to a seasoned pro. De Ligt has been well educated in the Dutch way of defending and is comfortable bringing the ball out of defence, bringing comparisons with former Ajax favourite Jan Vertonghen.
At his tender age, De Ligt could easily have been overwhelmed by the pressure and attention on his shoulders, but he is so far taking it all in his stride and it will now be difficult for Bosz to justify dropping the youngster out of his starting line-up.
On hearing of his selection, De Ligt admitted he had a “lump in his throat” but added, “I’m going to do my best and we’ll see where it ends.”
There is no doubt that De Ligt in his age group is the biggest talent coming out of the Netherlands at the moment, and it’s exciting to see where his career goes from here.
— Chaka Simbeye (@chaka_simbeye) March 16, 2017
Unlike De Ligt, Hoedt has had to be patient in waiting for his first call-up to the Dutch national team but its fully deserved after his performances at the back for Lazio this season.
Hoedt made his professional debut in 2013 with AZ Alkmaar and was a permanent fixture in their first team for the 2014/15 season. AZ had a great campaign, finishing third in the Eredivisie and qualifying for the Europa League. Hoedt’s commanding performances at the back were a big reason for their success, but the youngster decided not to renew his contract in Alkmaar and instead left to join Italian side Lazio on a free transfer.
Hoedt was expected to be a back-up at Lazio, but injuries to fellow Dutchman Stefan de Vrij saw the Dutchman play 35 times in his debut season. The Rome side finished a disappointing eighth, but Hoedt drew plaudits for his performances. A new coach arrived in the summer and Hoedt started this season out of the eleven but has quickly played his way back in, and has now formed a formidable partnership with De Vrij which has seen Lazio go their last eight games unbeaten.
The 23-year-old is strong in the air, comfortable on the ball and an excellent reader of the game. He wins on average 3 aerial duals per game, 5.2 clearances and has an impressive pass accuracy of 87%.
Its been a long time coming, but Hoedt will finally get his chance in Oranje and will be hoping to continue his partnership with De Vrij in the centre of defence. If he excels then it will make it hard for Blind to ignore Hoedt, even when Virgil van Dijk and Jeffrey Bruma return from injury.