With just four matches to go until their World Cup campaign gets underway in Russia this summer, England still look to have plenty of fine-tuning to do when they take on the Netherlands at the Johan Cruyff ArenA in Amsterdam on Friday (19:45 GMT, live on ITV).
England progressed unbeaten through the qualifying campaign for the tournament but have failed to record a victory in a series of five testing friendly encounters over the course of the last 18 months, which suggests they are at least a few steps behind the genuine contenders.
That feeling is strengthened by a glance at the squad Gareth Southgate has picked for Friday’s match and next Tuesday’s game against Italy. While he seems to have a solid idea of his options in midfield and attack, things are much less clear in defence and between the sticks. It is not ideal to be picking four uncapped players three months shy of the World Cup.
Joe Hart has been England’s first-choice goalkeeper for going on eight years but his continued lack of minutes at club level and mistake-laden displays when called upon have required Southgate to size up other options. Burnley’s Nick Pope has been brought into the squad, although Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford remain Hart’s strongest competition.
In defence, too, uncertainty reigns. Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand are more or less pencilled in for the full-back positions, but aside from John Stones, there are no other guarantees in the centre of defence. Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill have been left out of this current squad, and the other four centre-back call-ups have just six caps between them.
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For the new options and older faces such as Jack Wilshere and Ashley Young who have been recalled to the squad after long absences, there is much to play for over the course of the next week or so. These are the last friendlies before Southgate is required to name his final, 23-man squad for the World Cup in mid-May. Impressions made could prove decisive.
Friday’s opponents the Netherlands will not be involved in Russia after failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2002. Combined with their failure to reach Euro 2016, they are in the midst of a difficult time.
In a relatively small country such as the Netherlands, it is always hard to judge whether such troughs are a result of bad process or simple generational variance. Their last similar series of troubling results came in the mid-eighties, when they failed to qualify for three consecutive major tournaments. That was then followed by success at Euro 88 – their first major trophy.
Ex-Everton coach Ronald Koeman, part of that winning squad in 1988, is the man tasked with leading the Netherlands forward into the inaugural running of the UEFA Nations League, which kicks off in September, and the qualification process for the next European Championship. He is keen to look to the future and has picked a young and inexperienced squad for Friday’s match and the encounter with Portugal in Switzerland next Monday.
None of the 25 players Koeman has selected have accumulated more than 46 caps, and only one of them, ex-Liverpool forward Ryan Babel, is over the age of 30. There are five uncapped players in the squad and 15 with 10 or less caps to their name. Players such as the Ajax trio of Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek and Justin Kluivert, the son of former national team striker Patrick, are among those upon whom the future hopes of the country will be placed.
In reality, the result of Friday’s match isn’t of great importance. While for either team a victory would provide a welcome confidence boost ahead of challenges to come, both coaches will be keener to assess the strength of their options – short-term in Southgate’s case; long-term in Koeman’s.
England last defeated the Netherlands way back in 1996 and have lost out in each of the last two meetings between the sides, including a 1-2 defeat at Wembley in 2016. Each of the previous four encounters ended in draws, and with England lacking a little firepower in the absence of the injured Harry Kane that is again likely to be the case on Friday.
Our Preview’s Netherlands vs. England Betting Tips Verdict
The betting tips for this Holland v England preview are as follows, having compared betting odds and available options from the best UK online sports betting sites: