The Netherlands has a rich football history. They have never won the World Cup but made the final in 1974, 1978 and 2010 as well as reaching the semi-finals in 1998 and 2014. They have had similar success in the European Championships, reaching the semi-finals four times and even winning the tournament in 1988.
In recent times, they have hit a rough patch. They failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup as a lot of their key players retired and the next generation seemed to lack the quality of those before them. However, after a barren run of four years have they finally managed to turn a corner?
There are two ways to qualify for the 2020 European Championships. UEFA’s new flagship tournament, the Nations League will see four teams qualify and then the other 20 will be decided by the more familiar qualification campaign. The Netherlands history in the game has put them into the top bracket in the Nations League alongside the last two World Cup winners, Germany and France. The Dutch are obvious underdogs but after two games they are actually doing quite well.
Their campaign began away to France and although they lost 2-1 they gave a good account of themselves against the world champions. The French led from early but Ryan Babel threatened to ruin the homecoming with a second-half equaliser but Oliver Giroud earned the win for France.
The Dutch didn’t allow that setback to get them down though and bounced back with a terrific 3-0 win over Germany in Amsterdam on Saturday. A goal from Virgil van Dijk put the Netherlands ahead before Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum netted late to add some gloss to the scoreline. Although the late goals made the result look a little more flattering than it should have been, the Dutch were well worth the three points.
So what has happened? Why the sudden turnaround? One obvious factor has been the change in the dugout. Over the last few years, Guus Hiddink, Danny Blind and Dick Advocaat have all tried and failed to turn around the teams fortunes. Ronald Koeman now has the reins and to his credit, he has done reasonably well.
Another big reason for the change in fortune has been the emergence of some new players, as well as a return to form for some of the older ones. Matthijs de Ligt has come into the defence and has formed a fine partnership with van Dijk. Frenkie de Jong has now forced his way into the midfield and has done well so far. Ryan Babel and Depay are also showing the form that they hadn’t for a number of years and it is making all the difference for Koeman’s team.
The Netherlands has always been one of the major powers in European football and despite not being one of the biggest nations in terms of population, they have a fantastic track record of producing quality footballers. For a few years there looked to be a gap in that quality but if the young talent like Denzel Dumfries, Donny van de Beek, Pablo Rosario, Steven Bergwijn, Arnaut Groeneveld and Justin Kluivert can improve to reach the levels of de Ligt and de Jong then there can be more good times for the Dutch.
The last two major tournaments have been played without the Dutch and while they were both good, the absence of Holland is always notable. They have some exceptionally talented footballers and off the field, the sea of orange tops always brings a lot of colour and noise which will hopefully be back on display when the European Championships get underway in the summer of 2020.