The upcoming European Championships will see the return of the Netherlands to the major international tournament scene for the first time since they reached the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where they were beaten by Argentina on penalties.
Given that the Oranje reached the final of the 2010 World Cup before making it all the way to final four in Brazil, it was somewhat surprising to see them miss out on two major tournaments in a row, and it’s hard to really know how they will fare back on the big stage after their longer-than-expected absence.
Heading into their opening match of Group C against Ukraine on Sunday, Frank de Boer’s men are somewhat outsiders in the outright winners Euro 2021 odds, lagging behind the likes of England (9/2), France (5/1), Belgium (13/2), Spain (7/1) and Germany (15/1) at 12/1.
However, many would argue that being the eighth most likely team to win the tournament is a fair reflection of their chances. For many of Holland’s 26-man squad, this will be a first outing at a major international tournament, and that can be a daunting feat.
That said, the absence of Virgil van Dijk is also a massive blow for the Dutch. The Liverpool defender ruled himself out of the competition as he continues to recover from that well documented anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury picked up against Everton earlier in the season, and he will be sorely missed by de Boer and the Dutch faithful.
Whilst that injury will still be a bitter pill to swallow for everyone in the Netherlands’ camp, the fact that Memphis Depay is fully fit and raring to go will be some kind of consolation.
Had the Euros gone ahead 12 months ago as planned, the dangerous attacker would have struggled for full fitness as he may not have had enough time to fully recover from a cruciate injury of his own.
Depay proved how important he is to de Boer’s side with goals against Scotland and Georgia in the final warm-up matches before the Euros, and he looks raring and ready to go as the Dutch gear up to face Austria, Ukraine and North Macedonia in the group stages.
It’s certainly a favourable draw for de Boer and co. and their chances of reaching the last 16 look nailed on. They will face the third placed team from either Group D, E or F should they top their own group as expected. However, they will definitely be hoping that doesn’t result in a face-off against either France, Portugal or Germany, who are pitted together in Group F.
In de Boer, they have a coach who knows what it takes at major international tournaments. The former Rangers defender captained his country to the semi-finals of both the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros in 2000.
But, thus far as a manager, (away from Ajax) he is yet to really enjoy such success and whilst he has got the Netherlands back on their feet since taking over in September, this will be his first major test and once they reach the knockout stages, that’s when the hard work will really start.
Luckily for de Boer, even with Van Dijk injured, he is blessed with an incredibly gifted bunch of players, including Frankie de Jong, Matthijs De Ligt, Depay, Nathan Aké, Georginio Wijnaldum and Stefan de Vrij, and the 51-year-old believes that that should be enough to see the Dutch progress deep into the knockout rounds.
“We are between the fourth and eighth [strongest team].” De Boer said. “We are good enough to reach the semi-final, but of course we aim to win the tournament. A good atmosphere and a strong self-belief is vital.”
It will be great to see the Netherlands back rubbing shoulders with the big guns. After all, we want the best teams to be scrapping it out between them in the knockout stages!