What the Dutch national team needs to improve (even) to reach the final

You can’t always play the perfect game, Virgil van Dijk said at the start of the European title tournament. This turned out to be an understatement, considering what remains of the Dutch tournament. “I still see us sometimes doing things wrong that we don’t have to do wrong,” national coach Ronald Koeman said on Monday. “But we have a team that can play an almost perfect game.”

How? The Dutch played very inconsistently and showed very different faces at this Euro. The players say they are constantly aware that things can and must be improved. This will also be necessary against England. The team of problematic national coach Gareth Southgate has not yet impressed at this Euro, but looks extremely tough. The team has not lost any of its five matches and has only conceded three goals. No matter how mediocre England plays football, it has (much) more individual class than the Netherlands with Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka, and can always strike at a moment of carelessness.

What should the Netherlands do differently to previous competitions to reach the final? Five points of improvement in a row.

1. Better aim for the goal

said Ronald Koeman himself in a conversation with, among others, on Monday Fidelity I consider the quality of the Netherlands’ goal attempts at this European Championship to be below average. The Netherlands is one of the most successful teams in the tournament, but its finishing is lacking. Memphis Depay has shot from all angles and positions in the previous five games, but the balls have mostly flown (high) over the goal. This also applies, to a lesser extent, to the shots of Xavi Simons and Tijjani Reijnders. In this respect, the Netherlands are too reliant on Cody Gakpo.

2. Forward Depay

In five games at this European Championship, he suffered (again) from losing the ball. He has not scored yet. However, Memphis Depay remains undisputed in the eyes of the national coach. Koeman says that he is basing this on training and the past. However, Koeman is still not satisfied with Depay’s game. Too often at this European Championship, Depay dropped back from the striker position to claim the ball. Koeman’s idea is to then have a midfielder appear in the striker’s striker making a ‘deep run’. Gini Wijnaldum did it once successfully, but at this European Championship he failed in three substitute appearances. Xavi Simons, who has played as a ‘ten’ in recent games, is not one to drop deep. This is a recurring tactical problem for this Dutch team. The solution is for Depay himself to seek more ‘depth’, almost putting himself on the toes of the last defender against England.

3. Defensive

Except against France, everything was far from good in defence. This was not punished against teams with less individual qualities such as Poland, Romania and Turkey, but it was against Austria. Against England, the Netherlands cannot afford to have midfielders such as Foden and Bellingham simply cross the middle of the pitch. The Turks were allowed to do so several times in the first half. Tijjani Reijnders and Jerdy Schouten are the first to solve this problem, but the defence will also have to have the courage to press more quickly, especially from Virgil van Dijk.

4. Corrective capacity

The Netherlands were lucky that the free day against Austria did not have fatal consequences. There was a heated internal discussion afterwards. Since then, the group has become closer, said goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen. But Koeman points out that the players on the pitch are still too accepting of each other. If someone lets their guard down or tries too little, they are too little corrected, the national coach believes. This is a worrying observation from Koeman, which could easily tear the Dutch team apart again.

5. Kill a match

The Dutch national team beat their chests after the heated match against Turkey. They fought back the 2-1 lead with great effort in the thrilling final phase. Former footballer Willem van Hanegem pointed this out in his column ADVERTISEMENT However, it was nothing to be proud of. You should never concede so many chances in a finals, says De Kromme. Only art and craftsmanship prevented disaster. Van Hanegem’s criticism is “very easy,” Koeman replied. “You also face an opponent who takes a lot of risks, throws forwards and plays the ball long. You just have to defend very well and be a bit lucky that the ball doesn’t fall to them.” Still, Van Hanegem believes the Dutch team should “kill” such a game sooner next time. If necessary, feign injuries, buy time or chase balls into the stands.

The train doesn’t run, the orange flies.

The European Championships in Germany are intended to promote “green” train travel and this seemed to be a success for the Dutch team. National coach Ronald Koeman spoke positively about it after travelling by train to Berlin. But on Tuesday evening, Deutsche Bahn, the sponsor of the European Championships, once again confirmed its status as an unreliable rail carrier.

The Dutch team had wanted to travel from Wolfsburg to Dortmund by train, but that service was cancelled due to a road block. That meant improvising. At 8.20pm, the team and technical staff boarded the plane to Dortmund, the host city of the semi-final against England. Koeman’s press conference at the stadium was cancelled due to the delay. The Dutch team’s last training session was in the afternoon in Wolfsburg.

“It’s fantastic to travel by train,” Koeman said earlier this tournament. “During my time as coach in England, we also often travelled by train. UEFA wants it to be a green Euro, but of course you also have to make sure that the train is running.”

English and penalties

On Wednesday evening, after extra time, the match could easily end in a penalty shoot-out. The English football team, like the Dutch, was known for often losing in the penalty shoot-out at the final tournaments. Under the leadership of national coach Gareth Southgate, this has changed considerably in recent years. England has won three of the last four penalty shoot-outs. Only in the Euro 2021 final on home soil did things go wrong for them against Italy. Of the last nineteen penalties taken by the English, only one did not hit the target. On Saturday, England won the quarter-final against Switzerland with goals from Palmer, Bellingham, Saka, Toney and Alexander-Arnold.

The Dutch national team does not have a good reputation when it comes to penalties in the final tournaments (European and World Cup). Eight penalties had to be decisive and only two ended well for the Dutch team (in the quarter-finals of the 2004 European Championship against Sweden and in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup against Costa Rica).

Read also:

Koeman on then and now: ‘We called ourselves bastards’

As national coach, Ronald Koeman (61) adapts to a generation that can still achieve the same thing in a completely different way than in 1988. “The tough approach of thirty years ago no longer works.”

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