The win over Germany resulted in some interesting responses. Ronald Koeman, usually critical and sceptical, was very positive about his lads. He lauded their work rate, their skills, their quality and actually said that he expects great things from this group… The Dutch media approached the result as a Dutch Spring after years of winter. Obviously, the German media focused on the abysmal form of the Germans and wondered if it wasn’t time for Low to step down.
Most international media (French, Spanish, English) concluded that “Holland is back”. Only the media in Belgium decided to have a typical Dutch arrogant approach: “Don’t think you’re back coz you beat the weak Germans! We are better than them!”. The rivalry between Holland and Belgium, it never bores. We are probably considered “the Germans of Belgium” so to speak…
The match up with Belgium is never boring. And it’s never a friendly either. Although the Rijkaard coached NT back in the Euro2000 prep came close to a demonstration game with Belgium, with a 5-5 end result. We had a 9-1 and all sorts of results… But in the serious matches, we also had red cards, razor sharp tackles and excitement galore.
Dutch squad entering the stadium in Brussels
This time around, Belgium is the favorite and Holland the underdog. Belgium is the #1 on the FIFA ranking (Holland is currently #17), with players like De Bruyne, Kompany, Hazard and Lukaku. In 2012, the Red Devils played Holland for the last time and won 4-2. In 15 minutes, Belgium scored 3 times and the southern neighbours played Van Gaal’s eleven drunk. Axel Witsel saw the Dutch game vs Germany, but wouldn’t want to use that as a “key game” in Holland’s reversal of fortune, just like that 4-2 vs Holland wasn’t key for them. “Holland is back, it’s clear, they do have a good group of talented players, but to speak about key games… It’s never one game, it all comes down to all the work done in the years prior. But we are looking forward to this match. It will not be a friendly, I don’t think.” For both nations, a lot is at stake. Belgium wants to keep their spot at #1, while Holland wants to further confirm their way back to the top.
Willem van Hanegem, Holland’s living football legend and oracle: “This match and the development of players like Frenkie de Jong and Steven Bergwijn tells me one very important thing: our youth development is still pretty good. All those years of whining and complaining. There is nothing wrong with what we do. But there is something wrong with how we look and how we observe. Players like Dumfries, Virgil van Dijk and Arnaut Danjuma were ignored by the top 3. Players like Rosario and Bergwijn (and before them: Promes and Elia) were sent away by Ajax. Marten de Roon was sent away by Feyenoord. It is all about recognising talent. That is key. What really irks me, is that 5 months ago, the whole Dutch football world proclaimed that we needed to do what Germany is doing. We needed to borrow their smarts. And now, 5 months later, we beat them and we are on the up and up and Germany is on the way down. All that opportunistic waffling… Scoreboard journalism, we are very good at that. We did not copy what Germany did, and still we are developing talent. I also think Rosario would have made his debut if he wasn’t suspended. It’s all about recognising talent and being careful and cautious with their development.”
Van Hanegem with one player who was recognised early as a top player and one who wasn’t…
Romelu Lukaku is a player at the top of his game. He’s only 25 years old and already the top scorer of the Red Devils. He scored 28 times in his last 26 internationals. Who will stop him? Mathijs de Ligt smiles: “This is a major challenge. He’s tall, strong and fast. I don’t think I ever played against someone like him. I know, I need to be 100% top and I look forward to it. The better the opponent, the better I feel.” De Ligt is already working on it. “I watch Youtube videos to analyse his movements, how and when he takes in a position. Lewadowski and Lacazette are also super strikers. Like Lukaku.”
Ronald Koeman gave De Ligt another compliment, even after his weak start vs Germany. “But that is the point, he started not so great, but he fought back and got back into the game. That is tremendous. Not a lot of 19 year olds can do that.”
Koeman will make some changes and not take too many risks. Captain Van Dijk is back in Liverpool already due to his rib injury and the expectation is that Rosario will make his debut at some stage. He probably would have played vs Germany, but just before the match, Koeman was informed that Rosario’s suspension at Young Oranje level also applied to the senior team. For Belgium, its seems De Bruyne, Vertonghen, Vermaelen and Dembele won’t play and the fitness of Fellaini and Kompany is a question mark.
If Virgil van Dijk is the new leader of Oranje, his Liverpool buddy Wijnaldum seems freed from the shackles in his new role in midfield. In previous outings, with Sneijder on the 10 position, Gini was the first player to get the ball from defense and was responsible for the through ball forward. That is a position where risk is to be completely banned. Wijnaldum was always told to keep the balance, make sure Robben and Sneijder don’t have to do too much work and play sober. Now, with Frenkie de Jong or Daley Blind behind him, Wijnaldum is the forward playing midfielder who receives the second ball in midfield. When he plays in between the lines. And boy, he demonstrated vs France and now vs Germany how well he can play that role. Wijnaldum: “Do I enjoy the compliments now? Yes, but hey.. many times, it wasn’t good. And I think it has to be said if it isn’t good. But at the same time, Strootman and myself became easy targets.” Now, Wijnaldum demonstrated his tremendous powerhouse role late in the game, when Memphis hit the cross bar with a rocket, it was Wijnaldum on the edge of the Germany box picking up the ball. When he lost it, he ran all the way back to his own box, to join in in the defence. When, however, the Germans were pushed back, Wijnaldum ran forward again, to pick up the ball, pass two Germans and hit the ball in the net. That is something not many players can do after 90 minutes of hard work. “Oh no, it hurts. It really does and it costs strength, but that is what I do and will do. This is just one match. We need to do this time and time again. Because we can.”
The final words are for Koeman. He is not surprised that the mood in Holland has lifted tremendously. “That is normal. Our fans have not been spoiled lately so a win like this is landing on fertile ground. But, it is my role to analyse also what didn’t go well. And we have way to go. We are on the right track but we are really back to the top, not when we reach the Euros but when we actually compete for the top spot.”