Resurgent Dutch on cusp of Euro 2020

Dutch national team coach Ronald Koeman talks with Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt during a training session in Zeist, Netherlands. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2019

Resurgent Dutch on cusp of Euro 2020

PARIS: A thrilling crop of young players has Euro 2020 in its sights as the Netherlands prepare for a return to the big stage, while Teemu Pukki’s Finland are on the brink of their first ever major tournament.

Ronald Koeman’s side need just a draw at Northern Ireland on Saturday to guarantee a spot at their first international tournament since coming third at the 2014 World Cup.

The Dutch had been in the doldrums since then until the arrival early in 2018 of Koeman, with the once mighty Oranje missing out on the previous European Championship and last year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 56-year-old has revitalized his country’s dormant national team with the help of a crop of young players who are putting a famous footballing nation back on the map.

Rising stars including Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek and Matthijs de Ligt have joined more experienced campaigners Virgil van Dijk, Georginio Wijnaldum, Daley Blind and Ryan Babel to go top of Group C ahead of the final two rounds of qualifiers.

They are level on 15 points with fierce rivals Germany but above them on head-to-head record and three ahead of Northern Ireland, who realistically need a win to carry on their battle for a spot in the tournament.

A late double from 25-year-old Memphis Depay, a revelation in qualifying with six goals in five appearances, in Rotterdam last month helped sink the brave Northern Irish and means they just have to avoid defeat at Windsor Park to join the likes of Italy and Spain.

Germany meanwhile just need to better Northern Ireland’s result to make sure of their place.

The Finns are also on the verge of making history, with a win over lowly Liechtenstein in Helsinki on Friday enough to see them qualify for their first ever European Championship.

They lie second in Group J behind already-qualified Italy thanks to a magical run inspired by the incredible form of star man Pukki.

The Norwich City striker has scored seven of his side’s 12 goals in eight games, with his brace in a 3-0 win over Armenia last time out opening a five-point gap between them and their third-placed opposition.

France are among several big hitters also a hair’s breadth away from the main tournament. They might qualify before they even take the field against Moldova at the Stade de France on Thursday.

Didier Deschamps’ world champions will take their place at the finals should third-placed Iceland not beat Group H leaders Turkey, although a win for France over bottom side Moldova would be enough regardless of what happens in Istanbul.

England can rubber stamp what has long looked to be certain qualification with a draw over winless Montenegro at Wembley, with Gareth Southgate’s side another one pushing young players to the forefront.

Raheem Sterling will not play following a brief spat with Joe Gomez in the wake of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Manchester City, although Southgate insisted a line had been drawn under the incident.

“I love all of my players,” Southgate said. “We are like a family and all families have disagreements.”

Reigning European champions Portugal meanwhile will have the chance to defend their title with a win over Lithuania, who have collected just a point from seven Group B games, if Serbia fail to beat Luxembourg.

The Portuguese are a point ahead of the Serbs as coach Fernando Santos recalls Lokomotiv Moscow forward Eder, whose goal won Euro 2016, with teenage star Joao Felix sidelined.

They are also without Everton midfielder Andre Gomes after he suffered a horrific leg injury against Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the month.


Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

Updated 10 December 2019

Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

  • Injury-hit Reds have consistently leaked goals despite streaking clear at the top of Premier League

LONDON: Liverpool travel to Salzburg on Tuesday needing to avoid defeat to the confident Austrian champions to guard against an embarrassing Champions League group stage exit for the holders.

Jurgen Klopp's men are used to getting through to the knockout stages the hard way. In each of the past two seasons they have needed home wins to secure a place in the last 16 before going on to make the final.

However, the specter of a free-scoring Salzburg, led by the Champions League's top scorer in Erlin Braut Haaland spells trouble for an injury-hit Liverpool backline that has consistently leaked goals this season despite streaking clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Reds' recorded a first clean sheet in 14 games in Saturday's 3-0 win at Bournemouth, but lost another center back as Dejan Lovren limped off in the first half.

Should the Croatian miss the trip to Austria, Joe Gomez will be Klopp's only fit partner for Virgil van Dijk in central defense.

Van Dijk narrowly missed out to Lionel Messi in the battle for the Ballon d'Or last week in recognition of the transformative effect he has had on Liverpool's fortunes over the past two years.

But even the towering Dutchman has been incapable of stopping the steady flow of goals against in recent months.

Injuries have meant there has been a constant rotation of Lovren, Gomez and Joel Matip alongside Van Dijk, while the attacking impetus offered by fullbacks Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold leaves space in behind to be exploited.

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker also missed the first two months of the season due to a calf injury to further unsettle the backline.

The Brazilian is now back, but another injury to Fabinho has robbed the back four of the best player to protect them in the holding midfield role.

"I forgot how it feels, to be honest," said Klopp on finally ending the long wait for a clean sheet at the weekend.

"It's great, we should have them more often. It was the most-used word in the dressing room by the boys — "clean sheet, clean sheet, clean sheet."

"Obviously everybody was desperate for that, now we have it so let's have it more often.

"The next game where a clean sheet would be useful is already around the corner, against Salzburg on Tuesday."

That is easier said than done as Liverpool know from their first meeting with Jesse Marsch's men in October.

The hosts seemed to be cruising to another Anfield win in the Champions League as they raced into a 3-0 lead, but Salzburg hit back to level at 3-3 before Mohamed Salah's winner ensured Liverpool edged a seven-goal thriller.

Salzburg have scored 87 goals in 24 games in all competitions this season, 28 of which have come from Norwegian wonderkid Haaland in just 21 appearances.

The 19-year-old started on the bench when the sides met at Anfield due to injury, but came on to inspire the visitors' revival in the second half and scored one of his eight Champions League goals.

"He's not the only threat from Salzburg but he's a proper one," said Klopp of the danger posed by Haaland ahead of the sides' first clash.

Salzburg need to win to make the last 16 on their first appearance in the group stage in 25 years.

A point would be enough for Liverpool to progress, but they need to win to secure top spot in Group E ahead of Napoli.

Given Liverpool's paucity of clean sheets and Salzburg's thirst for goals, attack would appear to be the best form of defencse for the European champions.