Football

Euro 2024 team guides part 15: the Netherlands


This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2024 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 24 countries who qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.

Prospects

The Netherlands arrive at the Euros with some major concerns. The coach, Ronald Koeman, has three key uncertainties to deal with. They are all injury-related and concern Feyenoord’s Justin Bijlow in goal, Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong in midfield and Atlético Madrid’s Memphis Depay up front.

Under normal circumstances Koeman would not pick players with so little recent playing time but these are not normal circumstances. De Jong and Depay, along with the defender Virgil van Dijk, are the stars of the team and they will go to the Euros, fit or not. The national team coach is hopeful that, even if they are not ready to start the first group game, they will become available as the tournament goes on.

In goal Koeman has yet to make a decision who will start. The alternatives to Bijlow, Brentford’s Mark Flekken and Brighton’s Bart Verbruggen, lack international tournament experience.

The qualifying campaign was not as serene as hoped for and contained a lot of drama, no more so than before the first game, against France. In what later became known as “currygate”, several players at the national team retreat in Zeist fell ill on the eve of the game and were sent home in the middle of the night as the staff feared a bug. The chicken curry served earlier that night was later identified as the problem.

A weakened side quickly conceded twice in the first 10 minutes at Stade de France and went on to lose 4-0. They had to play catch-up from that moment and did not secure qualification until the penultimate game, against the Republic of Ireland. The key win came before that, a tense 1-0 victory against Greece in Athens.

Koeman is aware his side must play better in Germany to go far. “We really know that we need to improve in a number of areas to compete with the other top countries,” he said after qualification was secured. “It is clear that football can and must be improved.”

The coach

Ronald Koeman is an experienced coach with an impressive club football CV. This is the 61-year-old’s second spell in charge but the first time he will take the team to a major tournament. During his first time with the Oranje they qualified for Euro 2020 but Barcelona came calling – and paid €4m compensation to the Dutch football association – and he left before the tournament started. Things did not go as planned in Catalonia, however, and he returned as Netherlands coach in January 2023, promising a new style of play.

The icon

The Dutch have always been about attacking. The reputation of their style goes back to 1974 when they dazzled the world with a new approach. These days, however, it is the defenders who excite supporters the most. The Liverpool and Netherlands captain, Virgil van Dijk, leads this team on and off the pitch. The 32-year-old has the same excellent relationship with Koeman as he did with Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool. Koeman, in fact, was the manager who brought Van Dijk to England when in charge of Southampton and told him he could become one of the best in the world.

One to watch

No player in the Dutch squad has had a more spectacular season than Tijjani Reijnders. The 25-year-old has suddenly become a star in central midfield for Milan and burst on to the international scene too. His move from AZ Alkmaar to Milan for €19m last summer went under the radar, but how his former club Twente must be kicking themselves that they released him from their academy back in 2016. Reijnders did not give up and fought his way to the top, through clubs such as PEC Zwolle and RKC Waalwijk. He signed a five-year deal with Milan and has scored some spectacular long-range goals for club and country. Koeman has high hopes for him and is expected to put Reijnders in the starting lineup next to the playmaker De Jong.

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Netherlands’ Tijjani Reijnders causing problems for the Republic of Ireland in their Euro 2024 qualifier. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

The maverick

Memphis Depay is the one player Koeman needs to watch on and off the pitch. On it he can do brilliant things and could become the all-time men’s top scorer for the Netherlands in this tournament. Off it Depay is just as unpredictable and can stun his manager and teammates with videos on social media or cringeworthy comments. His support for his former international teammate Quincy Promes, who has been convicted for drug trafficking and stabbing a cousin in the knee, has been heavily criticised in his home country. But Depay said: “He is a friend and I will never drop my family or my friends. I am not saying I agree with certain things, but I will always back my friends. My brother also spent 10 years in jail …’’

The spine

The ideal spine of the team for the Netherlands would be Bijlow-Van Dijk-De Jong-Depay. But it is highly unlikely that the experienced quartet will appear on the pitch at the same time in the group stage. Netherlands have another playmaker in PSV’s excellent midfielder Joey Veerman, who is expected to move to the Premier League or Serie A, so De Jong is unlikely to be risked early on. For Depay, Ajax’s young striker Brian Brobbey is a potential a replacement.

Probable starting XI

Celebrity fan

The singer Jan Smit, who has released 24 studio albums, three live albums and 33 singles since 1997, is the team’s biggest celebrity fan. He has filled football stadiums as a singer, but would rather be among the crowd like Rod Stewart with Scotland. He will perform at the Oranje fan villages in Germany. Smit, who was also the host of the Eurovision song contest in the Netherlands three years ago, is heavily involved in football. FC Volendam were promoted to the Eredivisie on his watch as chairman.

Culinary delight

The Dutch eat their favourite snack bitterballen at home in front of the TV or in the stadiums. Bitterballs are not, despite their name, very bitter at all – they are actually Dutch meatballs fried in oil and a very popular snack to have with a beer. Tourists get hooked on them. They normally come in portions of five or six.

Netherlands team guide written by Marcel van der Kraan for De Telegraaf



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