The Netherlands and Ukraine get their Euro 2020 campaign underway at the Johan Cruyff Arena on Sunday evening (20:00 UK time).
This will be a third meeting between the sides and the first in a competitive setting. Oranje ran out 3-0 winners in May 2008 before a 1-1 stalemate two years later.
Frank de Boer’s men will be seeking to replicate the summer of 1988 while their visitors in two previous European Championship appearances have never escaped the group phase.
How to live stream Netherlands vs Ukraine:
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Where to watch Netherlands vs Ukraine on TV:
- UK: ITV 1
- US: ESPN
Netherlands vs Ukraine predicted XIs:
It’s a race against time for influential Dutch centre-back Matthijs de Ligt, who started training again days before kick-off. The 21-year-old had sustained a groin injury and if he’s unable to feature, then Netherlands manager Frank de Boer should retain Ajax duo Daley Blind and Jurrien Timber in a back-three alongside Stefan de Vrij with veteran goalkeeper Maarten Stekelnburg beneath the crossbar. Elsewhere in De Boer’s much talked about 3-5-2 formation, Davy Klaassen is vying for a spot in midfield but faces stiff competition in the guise of Marten de Roon, who started their final Euro 2020 warm-up game.
If this game was taking place as originally scheduled a year ago, Ukraine boss Andriy Shevchenko would be dealing with a fixed starting lineup. Instead the former Ballon d’Or recipient is spoilt for choice across various positions. No place symbolises this newfound luxury than the question as to who starts in goal. Andriy Pyatov or Georgiy Bushchan could easily start against Oranje and no one will bat an eye. Illia Zabarnyi, Serhiy Kryvtsov and Mykola Matviyenko are potential starters in central defence but one will be disappointed. The same can be said for two wide players with Andriy Yarmolenko, Oleksandr Zubkov, Marlos and Viktor Tsygankov all pushing for a start on either flank.
- Netherlands: Stekelenburg; De Vrij, Blind, Timber; Dumfries, Fd Jong, Wijnaldum, De Roon, Wijndal; Depay, Weghorst.
- Ukraine: Bushchan; Karavaev, Zabarnyi, Matviyenko, Mykolenko; Zinchenko, Sydorchuk, Malinovskyi; Yarmolenko, Yaremchuk, Zubkov.
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Thirteen years of hurt to end?
Normally, heading into a summer championship there is an unhealthy degree of enthusiasm among Dutch supporters but following recent performances and results it has been replaced with cynicism and trepidation. De Boer’s switch to a back-three hasn’t gone down well but you can understand his thought process, which is to accentuate the Netherlands’ positives while hiding the negatives.
One such area where they’re bountiful is central defence, even without the colossus Virgil van Dijk who is missing through a serious knee injury. Playing three centre-backs subsequently allows the use of three midfielders — consisting of Frenkie de Jong and Paris Saint-Germain’s latest recruit Georginio Wijnaldum both of whom have proven themselves on the international stage — as well as talismanic Memphis Depay to play through the middle, where he’s been greatly effective of late as he’s been involved in Oranje’s last six goals (two assists and scoring four himself).
Stepping away from the classical 4-3-3 system, which is sacrosanct to many Dutch footballing purists, was a big reason why Louis van Gaal’s men won bronze in Brazil seven summers ago. Until now that was Oranje’s last major tournament appearance. Before the 2014 World Cup finals they let themselves down at Euro 2012 by finishing bottom of Group B without registering a single point.
It means their last European Championship success came in the final round of group fixtures at Euro 2008, a routine 2-0 win over Romania that saw Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie getting on the scoresheet. Interestingly, keeping goal that day was back-up ‘keeper Maarten Stekelenburg (then aged 25). He’s expected to start against Ukraine though faces competition from Tim Krul, who can once again call himself a Premier League star after Norwich City’s promotion.
Since that win, they’d lose to Russia (after extra time) before those aforementioned defeats against Denmark, Germany and Portugal, meaning this Euro 2020 opener holds extra significance. On paper, Group C shouldn’t frighten the Dutch given they are the highest ranked team — Netherlands (16), Austria (23), Ukraine (24), North Macedonia (62) — but football isn’t played anywhere other than the pitch and De Boer’s side have shown incredible vulnerability, something a swift counter-attacking team like Ukraine can exploit. If Shevchenko’s men can deny Netherlands all three points in Amsterdam then their wait to win at a European Championship goes on.