England and Netherlands meet in the semi-final of the inaugural UEFA Nations League in the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques in Guimaraes, Portugal (6pm Thursday live on Sky Sports).
The first season of the new competition got underway last September. England and the Netherlands join Portugal and Switzerland in the final four after each topping their respective groups in League A, home to the 16 top-ranked teams in European football.
Consequently, neither had an easy path to the final four. England overcame Croatia and Spain to progress from Group 4. Netherlands defied France and Germany, the last two World Cup winners, to head Group 1. Both did so with a record of two wins, one draw and one defeat.
For England, it continued a highly-promising period of results that seem to bode well for both next year’s European Championship and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Gareth Southgate’s side made it through to the final four at Russia 2018, and their performances and results since suggest that England are very much a team on the up.
Since the World Cup, the Three Lions have won six of their eight fixtures, including an impressive 3-2 win away to Spain, a home win over Croatia, and a perfect start to their qualifying campaign for Euro 2020 with back-to-back thrashings of the Czech Republic (5-0) and Montenegro (5-1) in their last set of internationals back in March.
The switch to a 4-3-3 formation has brought out the best in some of England’s attacking talents, with Harry Kane acting as a reliable central reference point, and Raheem Sterling and one other, usually Marcus Rashford, providing pace, incision and a goal threat from the wide positions. England have scored 18 times in their last five internationals.
That balance of attributes may, though, be broken up against the Netherlands, with Kane’s participation in doubt. The Tottenham Hotspur striker returned from a near two-month absence to take part in Saturday’s Champions League final, and it remains to be seen whether he will be in good enough shape to take to the field on Thursday. From the winning Liverpool team, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson should be okay.
There were no real surprises in Southgate’s selection for the final stages of this tournament, aside perhaps from the absence of Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier, a regular in the squad throughout his time in charge. This is otherwise a pretty settled group of players accustomed to an approach that is yielding dividends.
For the Netherlands, their progression to the final four represented a much-needed return to form after their failures to qualify for both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup. Impressive home wins against France (2-0) and Germany (3-0) saw them through, and there are signs of a solid core coming together that should, at the very least, allow them to qualify for Euro 2020.
In the centre of defence, Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk lines up alongside the widely coveted, 19-year-old Ajax defender Matias de Ligt. In midfield, Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong has solid support from Georginio Wijnaldum and Marten de Roon, with Donny van de Beek also sniffing around the starting XI. In attack, Steven Bergwijn is an interesting young player, and Memphis Depay has shots and goals in him.
That is not to say that everything has suddenly been fixed overnight. The squad is still pretty rough in certain areas, and Depay is the only real semi-reliable source of goals. Coach Ronald Koeman, previously of Everton, has also been quick to play down some of the early triumphs his team have enjoyed, insisting that the turnaround will be a long-term process. The Dutch are certainly in a much better position than they were even a couple of years ago.
England should, though, still be considered the favourites to win out in Guimaraes and so book their place in Sunday’s final. The pace and vibrancy of their attack will cause problems for a defence who gave up three goals at home to Germany in a 2-3 defeat in their last international. England are otherwise solid enough to parlay that into victory.
Our Preview’s England vs Netherlands UEFA Nations League Semi-Final Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on England to win @ 6/4 with BetVictor.