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Euro 2024 build up: Netherlands

Europe’s nearly-men are on the cusp of yet another underwhelming international cycle as Oranje comes into the international break in the midst of poor results, with alarm bells once again beginning to sound

In the annals of football history, no nation on the international stage has been so lauded, and yet seemingly so incapable of getting over the final hurdle more than the Netherlands.

You would struggle to find many that could speak against the lore that surrounds Oranje, however, and for very good reason. If for nothing more than the sheer genius and undeniable influence of footballing legend Hendrik Johannes Cruijff, that alone would surely be enough to prop up the nation’s footballing profile under the banner of a man who some still feel may have been the most gifted player in history.

But beyond Cruijff, there is a treasure trove of figures that have aided in the Netherlands’ story arc. Legendary manager Rinus Michels, Cruijff contemporary Johan Neeskens, Servaas “Faas” Wilkes, Abe Lenstra, Arie Haan, Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, René van de Kerkhof, Dennis Bergkamp, Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, Wesley Sneijder, Frank De Boer, Arjen Robben, and Robin van Persie are just a small percentage of some of the elite names to have emerged from a nation of just seventeen million inhabitants.

And yet still, regardless of an “all-time” player pool that is up there with the likes of Brazil, Argentina, France, and Germany, the Netherlands has managed just one major honor across its history (Euro 1988) while reaching a combined 10 semi-finals across the European Championships as well as the World Cup.

The Netherlands remains under the microscope as a result, but so often it is under the guise of a desire to see the nation garner success that is commensurate with the level of talent that regularly floods the senior national side. But a harsh reality at present details a situation where said talent is far below the standards set in decades past.

Oranje comes into the current international break with a pair of Euro 2024 qualifying fixtures against Greece (which is set to kick off at the time of writing) at Philips Stadion before heading to Dublin to clash with Ireland at Aviva Stadium. Though on paper these are fixtures that a nation of its stature should be winning comfortably, recent results have not imbued a spirit of optimism for many.

In the resulting four fixtures since, Koeman has managed just one win – a 3-0 affair over minnows Gibraltar – while suffering defeats against fellow giants France (4-0), Croatia (4-2), and Italy (3-2). At the very least, one can say that they won the match they were meant to, but in international competition as difficult as the Euro’s so often tends to be, poor performances against sides that they are likely to come up against during group play, should they qualify, is no doubt disheartening.

The notion of qualifying itself is hardly guaranteed, either. Coming into the break, the Dutch sit 4th in Group B, behind both Greece and Ireland, while France have already shot to the top of the pile in expected fashion. This makes the next week of action that much more vital for Koeman, who has hardly done enough to justify the decision made by the Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond (Royal Dutch Football Association) to turn to him in a second managerial stint.

A first stint between 2018-20 at the head of the national program was certainly credible, with Koeman guiding the club to a final’s appearance in the UEFA Nations League, while he also helped the Netherlands end its self-imposed exile from international tournaments and qualify for Euro 2020 after having missed out on Euro 2016 as well as the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

While it is easy to suggest that the KNVB turned to Koeman once again in the hopes of righting the ship after Louis Van Gaal stepped down from his post in the wake of the Qatari campaign, it is perhaps noteworthy to mention that the managerial merry-go-round that has so often plagued the national team setup on the back of few truly trusted schoolmasters is part of the problem.

However, Koeman’s return has hardly been well-received by fans and media alike, after the manager has already come under fire for his stance surrounding players who have chosen to self-isolate from the national team, with many not forgetting that he departed the Netherlands prematurely to join Barcelona, which ultimately has been earmarked as a chief reason for the program’s setback over the last two years.

This, coupled with the poor results mentioned above, will undoubtedly see Koeman under considerable pressure to deliver during the current qualifying cycle, while others still have taken issue with some of his selections for the current 25-man squad.

Though there remains quite a fair bit of talent on offer, particularly from the likes of Xavi Simons, Cody Gakpo, Noah Lang, Frenkie de Jong, Tijjani Reijnders, Teun Koopmeiners, Joey Veerman, and Lutsharel Geertruida, a mix of further profiles on both side of the age divide even out a decent squad overall, but one that is painfully lacking in proven goalscoring ability due to the absence of both Memphis Depay (injured) and Georginio Wijnaldum (not called-up).

There is not a single player in the current Dutch squad who has scored more than six international goals, while Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo (0.35) and PSV’s Noah Lang (0.25) are the only players with a strike rate of one in four or better.

Even with the aforementioned Depay and Wijnaldum in the squad, the Dutch could not turn an utterly dominant performance into more than just three goals against Gibraltar despite registering 49 shots while boasting 72% of the ball. In this light, the losses against France, Croatia, and Italy will surely be focused on more heavily than a win that was sure to come.

In similar fashion to old rivals Germany, the Netherlands may be faced with the prospect of changing managers at an unfavorable time if Oranje struggles for results in the next seven days, and an even bigger question of who in the current landscape would be capable of taking Koeman’s place.

But for the time being, one has to hope that quality will shine through when it’s needed most.

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Andrew Thompson

US-based Football writer. German football guru with a wealth of experience in youth development and analysis. Data aficionado. Happily championing the notion that Americans have a knowledgeable voice in the beautiful game.

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