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Dutch a credible force again as Scotland visit



Netherlands players young and experienced are preparing to take on Scotland
Venue: Johan Cruijff ArenA, Amsterdam Date: Friday, 22 March Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland Extra & BBC Sounds, live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app, highlights on BBC One Scotland & iPlayer from 22:40

It has been a turbulent decade for Dutch international football, from their lowest Fifa ranking and missing out on big tournaments to World Cup quarter-finals and a place just outside the top five.

The bridge between the players that ran the best Spanish side in history so close in Johannesburg in the 2010 World Cup final and the current crop turned out to be bigger than they had bargained on.

Twice in the past 10 years the Netherlands have failed to qualify for major competitions with the finger pointed at those who kept returning to the ‘old guard’ to get them through.

Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie are all legendary footballers in this country but the over-reliance on them in their veteran years came at a cost as places at Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup passed them by.

For the former, they won just four times in qualifying, finishing fourth under Guus Hiddink and Danny Blind before Dick Advocaat failed to take them to Russia during his third and final stint in charge of the national side.

It was a highly unusual state of affairs.

It was not that they suddenly stopped producing talent – the likes of Georgino Wijnaldum, Virgil van Dijk and Memphis Depay were all ensconced in the squad by this point. It was the lack of a Gareth Bale, a Robert Lewandowski or a Cristiano Ronaldo that took them from number one in the world to a record low of 36.

Robben had fulfilled that role with aplomb for years but was heading into his mid-30s by the time of his international retirement.

Step forward current coach Ronald Koeman. The 60-year-old is into his second spell in charge of a nation he represented 78 times and at four major finals. His first stint sparked life back into the struggling side, leading them to Euro 2020 off the back of a runners-up finish at the Nations League final.

Koeman was seduced by the Barcelona job after the Covid pandemic postponed the multi-country tournament, with Frank de Boer leading them instead of his former international team-mate who got them there.

They would be eliminated in the last 16 by Scotland’s conquerors, the Czech Republic. De Boer departed and was replaced by another three-time coach in Louis van Gaal and the Dutch renaissance began.

Beaten quarter-finalists at the World Cup in Qatar, Van Gaal’s Netherlands came agonisingly close to knocking out Argentina in an epic, bad-tempered clash dubbed the ‘Battle of Lusail’, losing on penalties to the eventual winners.

Van Dijk leads exciting crop of Dutch talent

Despite that, the Dutch were back and they are targeting winning this summer’s Euros tournament in Germany with Koeman back at the wheel.

They lost twice to France in qualifying but finished a comfortable second by winning their other six games in the section and the current squad have the natives looking ahead with positivity for the first time in a while.

Bayer Leverkusen full-back Jeremie Frimpong
Bayer Leverkusen’s Dutch full-back Jeremie Frimpong previously played for Celtic

They will open Euro 2024 with a match against the winners of the play-off path that Wales are hoping to emerge from before taking on the French again and Austria.

Twenty-two year-old striker Brian Brobbey withdrew with from their current squad with an injury, meaning for the first time in almost 30 years, not a single player in the group for their friendlies with Scotland in Amsterdam and Germany in Frankfurt plays for Ajax. The most successful club in this country’s history are enduring an annus horribilis and for a spell in the autumn they were propping up the Eredivisie table.

Captain Van Dijk, Wijnaldum, Stefan de Vrij and Daley Blind are now the old heads in the side but youngsters are being bled with Feyenoord’s title winners Lutsharel Geertruida, Quilindschy Hartman, Mats Wiefer and Quinten Timber making an impact while former Celtic full-back Jeremie Frimpong has been starring for Bayer Leverkusen, who are on the brink of winning a first ever Bundesliga.

Paris St-Germain’s exciting 20-year-old Xavi Simons, on loan at RB Leipzig, looks like being the next star for the Oranje. He has scored nine goals and assisted with another 13 this season.

Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo, his former PSV Eindoven team-mate Joey Veerman and Borussia Dortmund’s flying machine Donyel Malen will all likely be aiming to make names for themselves at the upcoming Euro 2024.

The one area Koeman had not made his mind up on was the goalkeeping position, with seven prospective number ones in the squad over the past 12 months, though Brighton’s young stopper Bart Verbruggen has started the past four internationals and the gloves appear to be his to lose.

Despite all their trials and tribulations over the course of the past decade, it is clear the Netherlands are back as a footballing force in Europe and the world.

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