Uefa Nations League: Netherlands' revival under Ronald Koeman could cost Germany dearly
Dutchmen's victory on Monday could push already relegated Germany out of top seedings for Euro 2020 qualifying
High hopes in the low countries. In the space of two competitive games, the Netherlands have now picked off the last two winners of the World Cup with a net score of 5-0.
Next mission: to set up a possible confrontation with reigning European champions Portugal in the inaugural Uefa Nations League Final Four tournament in June.
Who would have thought it? Not their manager, apparently.
Ronald Koeman, who 12 months ago had just been dismissed by Everton, acknowledged that ahead of Monday’s final fixture of Section A1 in Uefa’s new, compelling tournament against Germany in Gelsenkirchen, he remains taken aback by his Dutch renaissance.
“We have a chance to finish top in a very tough pool,” he noted. “Nobody expected that. I didn’t.”
In Rotterdam on Friday, Koeman’s slick Dutchmen beat France, the world champions by 2-0 going on 6-0. But for the excellence of Hugo Lloris in the away goal, the victory secured by Georginio Wijnaldum’s strike and the dashing Memphis Depay’s late penalty would have come via a more emphatic scoreline.
Add it to the 3-0 October win against the 2014 World Cup-winners Germany, and it paints a bright picture of how far the men in orange have come from the blushing duds of the last four years.
A reminder of what the Netherlands were up to while Germany and France were celebrating their World Cups and while Portugal - a nation who draw on a far smaller pool of potential talent than Holland - were winning Euro 2016.
The Dutch were looking on from afar. They contrived to not qualify at all for the last Euros, a competition which, enlarged, had invited 24 countries to its finals and, come Russia last summer, no sign of them there, either.
They had also run out of senior men to turn to as manager. Louis van Gaal, who oversaw a creditable third place at the Brazil World Cup, had finished his second spell in charge. Guus Hiddink came in for a second go. Dick Advocaat for a third and, in between, Danny Blind took charge across two failed qualifying tournaments.
Koeman was a gift, although a sceptic. He knew he would have to rummage through a pile of Dutch debris to locate the tools he wanted to work with.
Depay is one obvious beneficiary of the restored self-belief, a footballer whose speed and daring, properly channelled, can alarm any defence, and terrified Germany last month. Call-ups to the likes of Denzel Dumfries, a bold right-back, and Steven Bergwijn, a winger, have endorsed Koeman’s sound judgement.
The teenaged defender Matthijs de Ligt, a firm shackle on France’s Kylian Mbappe in Rotterdam, enhances his high reputation with each international. Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk are carrying the authority of their Liverpool performances smoothly into a Dutch team designed to be both reactive - they speared Germany on the counter-attack - and proactive: they took the game to France on Friday.
Take that momentum over the border on Monday, and the Netherlands can achieve several satisfying landmarks in the Koeman revival. Germany, with one point, are already relegated to League B for the next edition of the Nations League.
If the Dutch draw with their old rivals, then Koeman will be preparing his squad for June’s Nations League finale.
Beating Germany should also push the Germans out of the top seedings for Euro 2020 qualifying, doubly satisfying for a Netherlands side who know how much it hurts to lose prestige.
Updated: November 19, 2018 08:00 AM