Frank de Boer had to live with criticism before the EM
At its European Championship opener against Ukraine, the national football team of the Netherlands wants to dive out of the valley of tears with a victory on Sunday (9 p.m. / live ORF 1). The hunger for success is high after two missed finals in a row, “Oranje” can also count on the home advantage in all three games of Austria Group C in Amsterdam. But the doubters have recently become louder again, the euphoria is a long time coming.
The start of the World Cup qualification went badly wrong in March with a defeat in Turkey, and the test matches shortly before the European Championship were no delicacies either. 2-2 against Scots weakened by Corona, 3-0 against second-rate Georgians. The opening game is therefore of great importance before Austria waits on June 17th. “If you don't win that, it will be at the expense of everything. The mood, the media will attack you. And then you can quickly become the laughing stock, like in 2012,” said ex-international Wesley Sneijder. At that time, the Dutch in Poland and the Ukraine were eliminated from the European Championship after three defeats without a hitch in the preliminary round.
In the secluded training camp in Zeist, they calmly note that the team of coach Frank de Boer is almost never mentioned when asked about the title candidates. “Sometimes it's good not to be the favorite,” said Juventus defender Matthijs de Ligt. “I understand that we are not the top favorite. But I want to tell you guys, have a little trust. Don't underestimate this Dutch team,” said veteran Daley Blind in an appeal to the football nation.
The Netherlands won their only title so far at the European Championship in 1988; at World Cup level, second places in 1974, 1978 and 2010 were the highest of emotions. The last highlight was third place at the 2014 World Cup, which was also my last participation in a major tournament. The departure of stars like Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar followed, as did the big slump.
The current generation is coming up to cause a sensation again – even without the injured defensive star Virgil van Dijk and the goalie Jasper Cillessen, who stayed at home because of Corona. In defense there is a real gem with De Ligt, who is only 21 years old, while Frenkie de Jong (FC Barcelona) and Liverpool veteran Georginio Wijnaldum should make brilliant moves in midfield. The figurehead in attack is Lyon striker Memphis Depay. “It seems that we have reached the end of a really tiring phase and are looking forward to a much better future,” said Wijnaldum with conviction.
The system question is once again causing concern. Like Louis van Gaal at the last big tournament seven years ago, de Boer is also planning to deviate from the 4-3-3 system, which is sacred in the Netherlands, and to rely on a slightly more defensive 5-3-2 format. “Because I think this team needs it,” said the bond coach.
Ukraine, the preparation of which was also shaped by the discussions about the use of a nationalist slogan on the dress, has what it takes to be a surprise, but has lacked consistency in recent years. In March they scored 1-1 at World Champions France in qualifying for the World Cup, but then gave away points at home against Kazakhstan and Finland.
Nevertheless, the team of coach Andrij Shevchenko does not want to hide. “We will only play to win against every opponent,” said Dynamo Kiev attacker Artem Besedin. “It would be wrong to play for a draw. We have very high ambitions.”