There is always that outside chance whatever the balance of quality or euros, and Van de Looi knew his team could beat France. A top notch goalie, a solid defence, two talented holding mids and speed and guile upfront.
Despite losing some key players for this Euros (Koopmeiners, Gakpo, Lang, Brobbey), Van de Looi was able to inspire his team with courage, with grit and with efficiency. The much lauded France team with big name and big pay-check players didn’t play bad but didn’t have a solution for the Dutch organisation and the speed on the counter attack. Young Oranje proved yet again that a bag of dollars / euros can’t score goals.
Van de Looi went from the anonymity of a typical B team into the lime light back in March when the Euros started. He copped criticism on his playing style and system (4-2-2-2) and copped even more when he didn’t play a striker (Boadu, Brobbey) against Germany, but opted for midfielder diesel engine Dani de Wit.
Against France, the big favorite for the titel, the coach kept his faith in his system and simply replaced his missing key players. With a team that objectively had less quality than the team he could play in March he was able to beat the favorites for the title. Van de Looi stuck to his philosophy.
Heaps of strong performnances. Bijlow again demonstrated that he is Holland’s biggest keeper talent. Schuurs might have lost his starting spot at Ajax but he played his best game ever in an orange jersey. The Man of the Match though, was a name people didn’t expect to see: Tyrell Malacia, the 21 year old Feyenoord left back.
At Young Oranje he is known as the man with the eternal smile. At breakfast, at training, during the tactical talks, even on the team pic, when all other faces are stern, Ty shows his pearly whites. A true football fan who happens to be playing on the highest stage for him. Not a position that looked likely. “He had to wait a long time, although we did call him up earlier but then he got injured,” Van de Looi explains. “And I was clear to the players, a week ago. I told them, we need topnotch energy and intensity against France. We won’t have a chance if we’re not fit. So I will select the player who has the legs. And Tyrell trained like a beast. Sometimes, as a coach you can pick between good and not-so-good. Now I had to pick between very good and even better.”
Dani de Wit as controlling midfielder was a surprise too, as he has to fill in for Koopmeiners. The AZ midfielder may not have the fine qualities Koopmeiners possesses but he is a leader, a personality on the pitch and with his grit he did pull the team through difficult stages. Harroui dropped back into right back whenever the French pressed but after 54 minutes, the coach directed him to midfield to make use of the extra space there.
The only stain Oranje had to face was the French goal. Straight from a dead ball. It seems Stengs lost his man. Van de Looi will have to work on that for the semi finals against the Germans. Another issue, France was way stronger physically in the last 15 minutes of the game. Stengs, Boadu and in particular Kluivert stopped doing their defensive work. The latter even had cramp.
Van de Looi would have subbed these three if he had Brobbey and Lang at his disposal but he allowed them on the pitch and would have subbed them in the break before the additional time. But that threesome ended up being responsible for the winning goal.
In true form. Van de Looi immediately made a statement to the players: that same night the players were to report for a recovery training. When Boadu heard this he though the messenger was joking. But Van de Looi was in full tournament coach mode and already in the bus. “Listen, you saw the explosion after winning against France? Everyone is happy. But it’s not the end yet. We need to make sure now that we are top fit for the next game, and that means: telling the body it can’t relax yet. There is another game coming and hopefully another one still. Let’s do all we can to make it to that finals. Lets not throw it away now because we won one match. And I look back, when we started, you are so far away. You need to be play qualification games and after 8 years we are here again. And the group stage wasn’t our best series. But now, this win, it changes everything. We need to keep calm, keep focused and realise the dream is still alive.”