Football Features

Where are they now? The U-21 Netherlands side that inspired Germany to World Cup success

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 16:10, 8 March 2021

It’s said the 2010 World Cup final was won on the playing fields of La Masia.

As for the following edition, won by Germany subsequently ending 24 years of hurt, it could be argued their success was sparked by an inconsequential game which took place in Petah Tikva on June 6, 2013.

On that day, their U21 counterparts, which featured the likes of Bernd Leno, Matthias Ginter, Sebastian Rudy and Lewis Holtby with Shkodran Mustafi, Antonio Rüdiger, Sead Kolasinac and Emre Can as unused substitutes, lost a European Championship Group B match against their biggest international rivals.

Rainer Adrion’s men succumbed to a 3-2 loss against the Netherlands but Joachim Löw’s backroom staff were nonetheless fascinated when poring over the footage. They, in a story retold by acclaimed columnist and author Simon Kuper, identified Dutch left-back Daley Blind as instrumental to Die Mannschaft’s chances at the forthcoming tournament.

As peculiar as this may sound, Blind demonstrated something which came second nature to him, but a eureka moment for those seeking a means to stopping a “one-two”. Lo and behold it proved to be a difference-maker in their subsequent wins over France and Brazil team,s who utilise this particular trait. Once the dust had settled on their fourth world title success, the German chief data analyst told a colleague of Kuper: “the headline for your story should be: ‘How Daley Blind saved the German World Cup‘.”

But going back to Jong Oranje’s success at the HaMoshava Stadium for a second, it’s easy to forget the hype that surrounded Cor Pot’s side, a lot was expected of that young and extremely gifted Dutch team not just at the Euros but going forward. Today some of those who ran out are household names, leading us to ask what their respective careers have been like during these past eight years?

GK: Jeroen Zoet

Current Club: Spezia

Senior Caps: 11

A day after this success, Jasper Cillessen made his Oranje debut and hasn’t really looked back since. He’s the undisputed Dutch number one, but that doesn’t mean there’s never been any competition. Jeroen Zoet has tried pushing the Valencia man but he now appears content in a back-up role. A graduate of PSV’s academy, it was there Zoet enjoyed three league wins before ending a lengthy association by joining Serie A outfit Spezia last summer, although the Veendam-born shot-stopper is currently spending more time on the bench.

RB: Ricardo van Rhijn

Current Club: FC Emmen

Senior Caps: 8

Before the Israel-held tournament, Ricardo van Rhijn was already a full international but his playing time would significantly be reduced once this championship was over. At this level, football is a ‘what have you done for me lately’ business. The emergence of Daryl Janmaat and to a lesser extent Paul Verhaegh ultimately convinced then-boss Louis van Gaal to forget about Van Rhijn who slowly fell out of favour at boyhood club Ajax. Since leaving Amsterdam he’s become somewhat of a nomad having represented Club Brugge, AZ, Heerenveen and present club Emmen in the past five seasons.

CB: Stefan de Vrij

Current Club: Inter Milan

Senior Caps: 43

The appointment of Ronald Koeman in 2011 was a masterstroke by Feyenoord as he arguably laid the foundation behind their 2017 championship success. By then former skipper Stefan de Vrij was long gone, Lazio had acquired the Dutchman’s signature following a stellar 2014 World Cup campaign that led to him making the Team of the Tournament. Koeman’s teachings no doubt prepared De Vrij for life in Serie A where he’s been ever since. Inter Milan is now home and although no longer a guaranteed starter for the Netherlands when everyone’s fit (i.e. Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt) the 29-year-old nevertheless remains a capable selection whenever called upon.

CB: Bruno Martins Indi

Current Club: AZ (on loan from Stoke)

Senior Caps: 34

De Vrij’s partner in crime during those Feyenoord days was Bruno Martins Indi, another tipped for big things. For a while he seemed destined for greatness, after competing in Brazil there was interest from some of Europe’s richest clubs, but the Portugal-born defender chose to represent Primeira Liga powerhouse FC Porto though it never quite worked out. After making 71 appearances in all competitions, Martins Indi was Stoke bound and he’d spend a few seasons in Staffordshire before returning to Eredivisie action on loan with AZ, where he’ll be hoping his performances catch the eye of national team manager Frank de Boer.

LB: Daley Blind

Current Club: Ajax

Senior Caps: 74

Being the son of a great footballer comes with an incredible burden. To some extent Daley Blind has successfully stepped out of his father’s shadows even if his old man was the last Ajax captain to lift European football’s grandest prize. A multifunctional player, laced with great acumen, Blind’s footballing IQ shone in the win over Germany as touched upon, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering his education. Van Gaal recognised that and made him one of his first signings as Manchester United manager but Blind’s time at Old Trafford was hit and miss. Now back where it all started, Blind remains a presence for the Dutch national team.

CM: Kevin Strootman

Current Club: Genoa (on loan from Marseille)

Senior Caps: 46

The last decade has seen a greater emphasis placed on needing deep-lying midfielders who can break up play and set the tempo. It seemed the Dutch had their very own in the guise of Kevin Strootman whose excellent showings at PSV convinced Roma to break the bank. However, a string of unfortunate injuries slowed the Dutchman down, and though he’s still chugging along it’s fair to say he’s no longer the same player. Reuniting with ex-Giallorossi head coach Rudi Garcia at Marseille led where and Strootman is now temporarily back in Italy’s top division with Genoa.

CM: Marco van Ginkel

Current Club: PSV (on loan from Chelsea)

Senior Caps: 8

It’s a case of what could have been regarding Marco van Ginkel who promised so much before troublesome injuries, mainly concerning the knee, became a fixture in his career. Described as a ‘modern midfielder’ at boyhood club Vitesse, where he drew favourable comparisons with Bastian Schweinsteiger, the native of Amersfoort caught the eye of Chelsea but it proved to be too much, too soon and to date he’s only made four appearances for the Blues totalling 91 minutes. Van Ginkel is nonetheless a member of their ‘loan army’ having spent time at Stoke and Milan since joining as soon as the 2013 U21 Euros ended. But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom as Van Ginkel lifted two Eredivisie shields (in 2015/16 and 2017/18) whilst representing PSV where he’s currently stationed until this summer.

RW: Georginio Wijnaldum

Current Club: Liverpool

Senior Caps: 70

Looking at where Georginio Wijnaldum was fielded against Germany back then and his usual position today, for both club and country, only goes to show what a truly versatile footballer the Rotterdammer is. After controversially leaving Feyenoord to join PSV, where he celebrated league title success, the sky seemed to be the limit. Newcastle United signed the midfielder on 2015 but the chemistry was never there and, following their Premier League promotion a year later, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool offered him a second crack in England’s top flight and he’s not looked back whatsoever. Over the following seasons, Wijnaldum became an instrumental part in the Reds winning a sixth European Cup and first domestic championship since 1990. He’s also one of the first names on De Boer’s international team sheet.

AM: Adam Maher

Current Club: FC Utrecht

Senior Caps: 5

As exciting as it is to predict the next big thing, future success is not guaranteed. There are so many variables involved, such as being in the right place at the right time, and more often than not they aren’t met. To say the excitement surrounding Adam Maher, a talented playmaking midfielder cut from the same cloth as his celebrated predecessors, was feverish would be an understatement. Seen as Wesley Sneijder’s heir the AZ youngster was tipped to become a regular mainstay in the national team. Unfortunately that is no longer the case with his fifth, and to date final, cap earned all the way back in October 2013. Now entering his late-20s Maher has since turned out for PSV Eindhoven, Osmanlispor and FC Twente before recently settling in Utrecht.

LW: Ola John

Current Club: RKC Waalwijk

Senior Caps: 1

Unlike many of his contemporaries there was never that much buzz around Ola John who you wouldn’t necessarily say was a below average talent. His final season at FC Twente, where he registered eight goals across 33 matches from the flanks, caught the attention of Benfica and John would stay between 2012 and 2016, though Hamburg and Reading earned his services on loan. Since permanently leaving Lisbon he’s enjoyed brief spells at Wolves, Deportivo La Coruña and Vitória Guimarães before returning to Dutch football with RKC Waalwijk.

CF: Luuk de Jong

Current Club: Sevilla

Senior Caps: 32

Talk about enjoying a second wind at international level. Luuk de Jong, who emerged as a smart ‘number nine’ at FC Twente, played a handful of games for Oranje before the summer of 2013 but his appearances in the forthcoming years were few and far between. However, since joining Sevilla from PSV Eindhoven, where he lifted four Eredivisie titles, De Jong has forced his way back, initially a bench option the Swiss-born striker (for now at least) is the Netherlands’ first-choice marksman though he’s yet to net under De Boer.

Substitutes:

Leroy Fer

Current Club: Feyenoord

Senior Caps: 11

Coming on to score a 90th-minute winner for the Netherlands was then-FC Twente midfielder Leroy Fer whose time at home was drawing to an end as Norwich City acquired his services following the championship. It never quite worked out for him in East Anglia and Fer, who modelled his game on Yaya Touré, was soon on the move representing QPR and Swansea City before rejoining boyhood club Feyenoord in 2019.

Memphis Depay

Current Club: Lyon

Senior Caps: 59

Dries Mertens departing PSV in 2013 opened the door for Memphis Depay to stake a regular starting berth and he didn’t waste this golden opportunity. The brash Dutch winger became a consistent source of goals and it wouldn’t be long before attracting Europe’s ‘super clubs’. Following an eye-catching 2014 World Cup campaign Depay followed Van Gaal to Old Trafford but it turned into a frustrating spell. Dusting himself off, he’d join Ligue 1 outfit Lyon, which has led to a resurgence like no other. Now comfortable in a ‘false nine’ role the former Sparta Rotterdam youth player is arguably Oranje’s most valuable player. Across his last 33 international appearances Depay has scored 18 times and created 16 goals.

Florian Jozefzoon

Current Club: Rotherham (on loan from Derby County)

Senior Caps: 0

The only player who featured in this game that never earned a full senior cap and, to be fair, it was expected considering the plethora of wingers Oranje managers have had at their disposal in the past decade or so. Florian Jozefzoon, though, has still enjoyed an interesting career. After leaving Ajax, where it all began, he’d join RKC Waalwijk and PSV before moving to England where he’s since played for Brentford, Derby County and Rotherham United.