Despite a long and rich history in the competition, the Netherlands headed into the summer looking for their first win in a European Championship game since 2008.
The Oranje lost all three of their group games at the 2012 edition in Poland and Ukraine before they failed to qualify at all for France 2016 — they subsequently missed out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia, too.
But the Dutch have been resurgent recently, finishing as runners-up to Portugal in the inaugural Uefa Nations League, while qualifying for this summer’s festival of football with just one defeat from eight games. And the Netherlands didn’t just get their first Euro win since 2008, they got three to finish top of Group C with a perfect record.
Euro 2020 players to watch: Netherlands
Frenkie de Jong
While Marten de Roon screens the defence and Wijnaldum puts in the hard yards, Frenkie de Jong is very much the metronome that keeps this Dutch side ticking. Since debuting against Peru in September 2018, he’s become a regular presence on the international stage, winning 30 caps to date, and is arguably Oranje’s most important player due to his press resistance. De Jong’s ability to recycle possession cannot be understated and recently under De Boer, he’s taken on a more creative role.
De Jong’s dream move to Barcelona — following an incredible final season with Ajax — has not been wholly straightforward, but no one can accuse him of not putting in the work. More often than not he is the one wearing Blaugrana colours that’s complemented by supporters and media alike. Recently celebrating his 24th birthday, the Arkel-born midfielder is already considered the best in his position. And there’s no question he holds the key to Oranje’s chances this summer.
No one shone more in Oranje’s qualifying campaign than Memphis Depay, who reinvented himself under Ronald Koeman to devastating effect. Having emerged at PSV Eindhoven as a modern wide forward, Depay followed then Dutch national team boss Louis van Gaal to Manchester United, but his time at Old Trafford was disappointing, to say the least. After resurrecting his career at Lyon, the former Sparta Rotterdam youth prospect, now converted into a ‘false nine’, brought that newfound swag to the international stage. Across six Euro 2020 qualification games, he bagged six goals and created a further eight making him the Netherlands’ undisputed ‘MVP’.
Depay’s second wind naturally led to speculation linking him with a move away from southern France, most notably last summer after Koeman inherited the Camp Nou dugout, but a switch to Barcelona never transpired (until now). Understandably disappointed, Depay has been nothing but professional since in trying to push Lyon towards Champions League qualification (albeit without success). The former United man netted 20 times, making 2020/21 his most prolific league campaign.
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The manager: Frank de Boer
After guiding boyhood club Ajax to a fourth consecutive Eredivisie title in 2014 it seemed Frank de Boer could do no wrong. As his stint was drawing to a close, several clubs across Europe were being linked with the Dutch tactician, but he remained loyal, before ultimately departing for Inter Milan where things ended before they had really started. De Boer’s time in Lombardy lasted for 14 matches, which included five wins, and just when it seemed his managerial career was ruined, Crystal Palace gave him a reprieve. However, this stay was a lot shorter and even more disappointing. De Boer was dismissed after four Premier League outings, each one ending in defeat, by now those Amsterdam glory days were a distant memory.
Atlanta United — a rising force in American soccer — presented him as Tata Martino’s successor, the Argentine coach had won the franchise their first MLS Cup title in just their second year of existence, meaning there was a lot for De Boer to live up to. Unfortunately, despite being in Georgia for a longer period of time, success was once again fleeting. Sure, De Boer won US Open Cup and Campeones Cup titles in 2019, but the standard of football was quickly deteriorating to the point where the Five Stripes were one of the worst teams in MLS last year. His dismissal in July 2020 was no shock.
With another disappointing job under his belt, no one had De Boer in mind when Koeman, after guiding Oranje to Euro 2020, departed for Barcelona, but here we are. It’s been a lukewarm run so far. After his opening eight outings, the Dutch have secured four wins.
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What happened next? Oranje‘s last line-up at a major international tournament
Incredibly, it had been seven years since the Netherlands last competed at a major international tournament, finishing with a ‘bronze position’ in the 2014 World Cup after defeating host nation Brazil 3-0 in the third place play-off, with goals from Robin van Persie, Daley Blind and Georginio Wijnaldum.
The likes of Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt also featured in Louis van Gaal’s starting XI that afternoon, with the former still going strong in the Eredivisie with boyhood club Groningen, and the latter having retired in 2018 after seeing out his career in his homeland.
Robben has missed the majority of the season through injury, but the 37-year-old recently returned to make his first start against FC Emmen on Sunday, providing two assists in the 4-0 win, and he even broached the possibility of returning to the international set-up if given a call.
When questioned on how he would react if he received a call-up, Robben told ESPN in the Netherlands: “Then I would go. It would be fun, but you must be realistic, very fit, and know you can contribute to the team.
“After all, the Oranje [the Dutch national team] is a step up.
“Going to Euro 2020 is somewhere in my wildest dreams, but you must be very careful because I can already see tomorrow’s headlines.
“Right now I’m not saying I want to go, but if he [De Boer] should call, I’d say yes.”
De Boer has predominantly utilised a 3-4-1-2 shape which is uncharacteristic compared to past Dutch teams as they’ve often lined up in a classic 4-3-3 system, and has seen the coach come under fire.
The system utilises a two-man strike force of Memphis Depay and Wout Weghorst with Wijnaldum playing just off the pair. Wijnaldum’s advanced position has seen him score three goals at Euro 2020 so far, more than any other Netherlands player and tied for the Golden Boot as things stand. But the real standard for the Netherlands, and a big advantage of the 3-4-1-2 system, has been Denzel Dumfries.
The right-wing-back scored twice for Netherlands in their three group games, having never previously netted for the Oranje, earning praise for his attacking prowess. Dumfries’ positioning means Stefan de Vrij pushes out to the right slightly to cover space and has Netherlands essentially operating as a slightly rotated 4-3-3 with Depay on the left and Weghorst playing the central striking role.
In the middle of the pitch, Marten de Roon and De Jong perfectly complement each other with the Atalanta man holding while his Barcelona counterpart pulls the strings.
Can Oranje repeat the summer of ’88?
Ever since Marco van Basten’s legendary volley in Munich against the former Soviet Union secured the Dutch their first major international prize over three decades ago, there’s been countless missed opportunities. It’s fair to say the calibre of De Boer’s squad doesn’t match previous Oranje teams but as things stand, they are one of the favourites to reign supreme this summer especially after their group stage performance and favourable side of the knockout route.
Odds to win Euro 2020 with Sky Bet… 9/1
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