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Euro 2024: Oranje bullish about chances despite injury crisis –



Head coach Ronald Koeman has promised the Netherlands will not be serving up “boring football” when they kick off their Euro 2024 campaign this weekend.

As a statement of intent it was designed to rally fans nostalgic for a taste of Total Football after the sometimes stodgy fare of Louis van Gaal during the World Cup in Dubai.

But it also reflects the fact that Koeman will have to take risks with his team selection after a string of injuries to key players has forced him to improvise.

Koeman favours a fluid 4-3-3 system, with deep passes from midfield to exploit the pace and mobility of the front line, supported by Denzel Dumfries’s marauding runs down the right flank.

Oranje lack an orthodox striker, but the scoring prowess of Memphis Depay, who is closing in on Robin van Persie’s record of 50 international goals, and the ability of Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons to switch between the flanks and the centre suggest this will not be a problem. Koeman also has Wout Weghorst waiting in the wings if he decides to try a more straightforward approach.

“Lot of quality”

The 61-year-old Koeman, who is coaching at his first major international tournament, has been talking up his team’s chances following a pair of 4-0 friendly wins against Canada and Iceland – who beat perennial bookies’ favourites England in their previous game.

“We feel we still have a lot of quality in this squad,” he said this week. “If we can make that work and create an atmosphere with a lot of fan support then the Netherlands could have an amazing tournament.”

But the impressive results were overshadowed by the withdrawal of Frenkie de Jong. The 27-year-old Barcelona midfielder has been the fulcrum of the national team for the last five years, but has been unable to play since spraining his ankle in the Clásico against Real Madrid in April.

“He’s a very important player for us in terms of the way we play and how he fits into the group, so it’s not the best news,” defender Nathan Aké said after the Iceland game.

Koopmeiners out

De Jong’s penetrating passing and ball retention will be sorely missed. And Koeman was dealt another heavy blow when Teun Koopmeiners suffered a groin while warming up for the Iceland match.

Koopmeiners has had a superb season with Atalanta Bergamo, who finished fourth in Serie A, and was one of the few players capable of stepping into De Jong’s shoes.

All international coaches have to cope with injuries in summer tournaments, but Koeman’s list of prominent absentees is lengthy, especially in midfield.

Koopmeiners’s team-mate, the experienced utility player Marten de Roon, was dropped from the final squad two weeks ago. Steven Berghuis of Ajax and his former team-mate Quinten Timber, now at Feyenoord, have also been ruled out, along with Feyenoord’s anchor man, Mats Wieffer, one of the standout performers in Arne Slot’s championship-winning side last year.

Midfield depleted

Newcastle centre-back Sven Botman and Feyenoord left-back Quindilschy Hartman, who scored against France on his debut last October, have also been sidelined, as has promising PSV forward Noa Lang.

The Dutch squad of 26 includes just five dedicated midfielders, one of whom is the veteran Georginio Wijnaldum, now winding down his career with Al-Ettifaq in Saudi Arabia.

Another, one-time Ajax prodigy Ryan Gravenberch, has been unable to secure a first-team place at Liverpool and has played just twice for the national team in the last three years.

A huge burden will rest on the creative shoulders of PSV Eindhoven’s Joey Veerman, his team-mate Jerdy Schouten and AC Milan’s Tijjani Reijnders, who have just 22 caps between them.

Impressive Reijnders

The 25-year-old Reijnders has made a big impact since arriving in Italy last summer with his surging runs and eye for goal and has the potential to be one of the breakthrough stars of the tournament.

Veerman’s vision and accuracy were instrumental in PSV’s championship-winning season, as he weighed in with 19 assists and created 130 chances – almost twice as many as any other Eredivisie player.

Backup options in midfield include Ian Maatsen, the uncapped Borussia Dortmund defender who was called up as a late replacement for De Jong, or Tottenham’s versatile centre-back Micky van de Ven.

Maatsen, 22, has impressed since arriving in Germany on loan from Chelsea in January, playing in the Champions League final two weeks ago, and will be keen to make the most put himself in the shop window for a permanent move in the summer.

Experienced defence

The coach could also bring on Jeremie Frimpong down the right, whose pace and crossing ability will test tiring defences, and the explosive Brian Brobbey, though doubts about the Ajax striker’s fitness prompted the coach to give a late call-up to Bologna’s Joshua Zirkzee.

Oranje’s biggest asset is its experienced defence; Koeman remarked this week that “many countries are envious of the number of central defenders we have in our squad”. But the central defence has looked static in recent matches against top sides such as France and Italy.

Aké, Dumfries, captain Virgil van Dijk, Stefan de Vrij and Matthijs de Ligt all have at least 45 caps for Oranje. Daley Blind is the most capped player in the squad with 107 appearances, but is likely to play a supporting role this time.

Van Dijk has been a commanding presence for Liverpool and his country this season, and offers an extra attacking option at set-pieces. At nearly 33, he knows this could be his last chance to make his mark at a major tournament.

The hugely promising Bart Verbruggen has been named as first-choice goalkeeper, making him the youngest ever Dutch player to guard the net at a major tournament at just 21.

Strong starters

The Netherlands tend to start tournaments strongly and will want to get off to a positive start against Poland on Sunday. Lose, and they face a tough challenge against world champions France and a potential make-or-break encounter against Austria in the last group game.

The format of the tournament, with just eight of the 24 teams going home after the group stages, means the Dutch should make it through to the knockout rounds. They will not meet France again before the semi-finals, and if they finish in the top two they will be drawn against another group runner-up in the last 16.

Germany has been a happy hunting ground for the Dutch in the past: Oranje reached the World Cup final there in 1974 and won their only international trophy, the 1988 European Championship, with a 2-0 win against the Soviet Union in Munich.

The opening match against Poland marks a return to the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg, where the Dutch beat West Germany 2-1 in the semi-final in 1988. Ronald Koeman scored a penalty that day and famously simulated wiping his backside with Olaf Thon’s shirt after the match.

A mature Koeman will be hopeful of repeating the result on Sunday, but the celebrations will be relatively boring, even if the football isn’t.

Full squad: (*** likely to start ** likely to feature * may see some action)

Goalkeepers (3): Justin Bijlow * (Feyenoord), Mark Flekken * (Brentford), Bart Verbruggen *** (Brighton & Hove Albion)

Defenders (10): Nathan Aké *** (Manchester City), Daley Blind (Girona), Virgil van Dijk *** (Liverpool), Denzel Dumfries *** (Internazionale), Jeremie Frimpong ** (Bayer Leverkusen), Lutsharel Geertruida * (Feyenoord), Matthijs de Ligt ** (Bayern Munich), Ian Maatsen ** (Borussia Dortmund), Micky van de Ven ** (Tottenham Hotspur), Stefan de Vrij *** (Internazionale)

Midfielders (5): Ryan Gravenberch * (Liverpool), Tijjani Reijnders *** (AC Milan), Jerdy Schouten *** (PSV Eindhoven), Joey Veerman *** (PSV Eindhoven), Georginio Wijnaldum ** (Al Ettifaq)

Forwards (8): Steven Bergwijn * (Ajax), Brian Brobbey * (Ajax), Memphis Depay *** (Atlético Madrid), Cody Gakpo *** (Liverpool), Donyell Malen ** (Borussia Dortmund), Xavi Simons *** (Red Bull Leipzig), Wout Weghorst ** (Hoffenheim), Joshua Zirkzee (Bologna) *

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