Euro 2016 hosts France travel to Amsterdam to take on the Netherlands, the biggest football nation not to reach this summer’s tournament (7.45pm Friday).
Qualifying was a complete and utter disaster for the Netherlands, who did not even secure a play-off spot by failing to finish in the top three in Group A. Their return of just 13 points from a possible 30 saw the Dutch end the campaign below the Czech Republic, Iceland and Turkey, with their only four wins coming against Kazakhstan and Latvia.
In hindsight, Guus Hiddink’s decision to move the team away from the pragmatic, counter-attacking style that took them to third place at the 2014 World Cup under Louis van Gaal proved a mistake, with the Netherlands struggling to produce positive results while playing the old-school 4-3-3, possession-based game. Nevertheless, the players in the ranks – Hiddink and successor Danny Blind had the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay to call upon – were comfortably good enough to qualify, and it is a great shame for neutrals that the famous orange kit will not be on display this summer in the European Championships.
Blind will be without Robben for the clash with France, with the Bayern Munich winger ruled out of action with a thigh injury. There are a total of seven inclusions from Premier League clubs – Manchester United pair Daley Blind and Memphis Depay, Stoke City’s Erik Pieters, Southampton duo Virgin van Dijk and Jordy Clasie, and Daryl Janmaat and Georginio Wijnaldum of Newcastle United – while Galatasaray’s Sneijder and Schalke’s Klaas Jan Huntelaar have also been selected.
Given that they will be hosting the Euro 2016 tournament, France did not need to qualify and have instead been contesting friendly matches ever since the World Cup in Brazil two years ago. With the tournament now less than three months away, though, manager Didier Deschamps (pictured) is likely to be taking Friday’s encounter with the Netherlands and Tuesday’s meeting with Russia more seriously than previous non-competitive games.
France have defeated Portugal, Serbia, Armenia, Denmark and Germany this season, with their only loss coming against England in November, a match that was overshadowed by the terrorist attacks in Paris a few days previously. Overall, Les Bleus look in very good shape ahead of the summer, where many will expect the 1998 World Cup winners to claim another trophy in front of their own fans.
West Ham United’s Dimitri Payet and Leicester City’s N’Golo Kante have been called-up by Deschamps, with the latter set to win his first France cap. Karim Benzema has been left out due to his ongoing court case, with Morgan Schneiderlin also remaining at home.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris, Manchester City’s Bacary Sagna, Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho, Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud, Newcastle’s Moussa Sissoko, Crystal Palace’s Yohan Cabaye and Manchester United’s Anthony Martial are the Premier League faces named in the 23-man squad. Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba, Kingsley Coman, Antoine Griezmann, Jeremy Mathieu and Blaise Matuidi are the other high-profile inclusions. Deschamps will likely continue with his favoured 4-3-3 formation, with plenty of places in the starting XI up for grabs in what is a very talented group of players.
The Netherlands will be desperate to lift the negative mood surrounding the national team with a positive performance and result against one of the favourites to win this summer’s European Championship, while France will be keen to turn in a good display against a team who, while clearly not in the best of shapes at present, still have a tremendous pedigree in the international game. This should be an entertaining and potentially high-scoring encounter, with the odds on a 2-2 draw looking rather tempting.