With three matches in just a week, what were the big talking points for the Netherlands from their latest round of international fixtures?
In an already truncated and busy season it does seem bizarre that we are still having intense international periods in the football calendar. Especially considering the risks of the ongoing global pandemic.
Nevertheless, the latest round of fixtures, combining the climaxes to the UEFA Nations League Group stages and a round of friendlies, still provided excitement and intrigue. This was certainly the case for the Netherlands, who after having previously accomplished their mission of European Championship qualification, are still in the process of picking up the pieces from former Manager Ronald Koeman leaving to join Barcelona and Captain Virgil van Dijk suffering a potentially season-ending injury.
After a 1-1 draw in a Friendly against Spain, the World’s number 15 ranked team secured the two Nations League victories they were after – a 3-1 result in Amsterdam against Bosnia-Herzegovina, followed by a dramatic late 2-1 triumph away to Poland.
Here The Oranje assesses the key talking points:
An end to the Nations League title hopes
The 2019 Nations League was an immensely successful one for the Netherlands. They topped a tough group containing Germany and France and beat England in the semi-finals, before eventually finishing runners-up after losing a tight final to Portugal.
Any hopes of similar success this season though are over. The late comeback against Poland ultimately wasn’t enough to top Group A1, with favourites Italy pipping them to first place by just a single point, after they got the win they needed over Bosnia.
After taking just one point from three games in October, it was a strong finish to the campaign. For Manager Frank de Boer, it was also especially vital to see the desire amongst his new team to secure the win against Poland even though their hopes of qualifying were over by that point, as he acknowledged in post-match interviews. Yet, with the Euros approaching and so few games left to test tactics and personnel before the tournament kicks-off, the ‘The Flying Dutchmen’ will still be disappointed not to qualify.
Wijnaldum stepping up to the mark
With 70 caps to his name, Gini Wijnaldum has been an integral player for a while but he is now proving to be indispensable, not just for his role as short-term Captain but because he has become one of the key sources of goals for his country.
With just 19 goals across all competitions in four and a bit seasons with Liverpool, the midfielder has hardly been prolific, mainly due to a different role with Jürgen Klopp’s men and with world-class attackers taking the goal scoring burden. However, this latest round of Netherlands matches again showed how bountiful he has become at international level.
Playing in a flourishing midfield partnership with Frenkie de Jong, Wijnaldum is far more progressive in his country’s colours. He only completed 90 minutes once over the three fixtures, being substituted twice to rest heavy legs, but his impact was still huge. The two early strikes against Bosnia and the winner against Poland, a fine header in the 84th minute, mean he’s now scored seven of the Netherland’s last 12 goals, with his personal tally moving into the 20s. That he also won the penalty against Poland, converted by Memphis Depay to initially equalise, adds weight to the view that he is delivering when it matters most.
Losing Ronald Koeman to Barcelona, in a year when he was originally expected to be leading the team in the European Championships, was undoubtedly a blow. His replacement Frank de Boer has similar pedigree as a former player, but perhaps not as a coach, with underwhelming and short-lived experiences with Inter Milan and Crystal Palace springing to mind. Things had not started particularly well in his new role either, with a Friendly defeat to Mexico and Nations League draws against Bosnia and Italy.
Yet on the basis of these most recent performances, he has the players working hard for him. The Spain draw may have extended his run without a win to four games, but the response from his team to both falling behind and losing Nathan Aké to injury in the first 20 minutes was notable, rewarded with Donny van de Beek’s fine volleyed equaliser. The win against Bosnia, only the team’s second in five Nations League matches, was dominant, and the comeback against Poland showed fight as well as quality.
A total of six goals in three games should not be sniffed at and was the first indication of de Boer’s naturally front-footed, attacking style. What’s more, he was able to start shaping the team in his image, giving invaluable experience to youngsters such as the AZ Alkmaar pair, striker Calvin Stengs and left-back Owen Wijndal, who got an assist against Spain, as well as reintegrating the likes of Davy Klaassen. With a lengthy break until the next round of fixtures, securing back-to-back wins provides an ideal platform to kick-on in time for the Euros.
Header photo credit: Eurosport
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