Dutch look to make up for lost time but need consistency

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By Mark Gleeson

(Reuters) - The Netherlands missed out on the last two major tournaments so they will be looking to make up for lost ground at Euro 2020 but with a side who still have an air of inconsistency about them.

Failing to qualify for Euro 2016 in France and the World Cup in Russia two years later was a blow for a country who were near the top of world football as runners-up at the 2010 World Cup and third in Brazil four years later.

They bounced back by finishing second in the inaugural Nations League in mid-2019 and lost only one game in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

But performances have been up and down -- they have beaten England, France and Germany in the last three years but just months ago lost 4-2 in Turkey after a poor showing.

Five coaches over the last seven years attests to the turmoil, while the team has struggled to find replacements for the likes of match-winners like Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie.

However, a new group of youngsters including Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt have the potential to ignite another golden period for the team under Frank de Boer.

The tenure of the new coach started badly, underlining the sceptism around his appointment after managerial flops in Italy and England.

De Boer has nonetheless steadied the ship somewhat and feels they have every chance of winning the tournament, emulating the Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten-inspired team of 1988.

“But it is a long route to the title – seven matches and a lot of good fortune,” he said in a recent interview.

TOP SEEDS

The Dutch are top seeds in Group C where they also have home advantage in their matches against Ukraine (June 13), Austria (June 17) and North Macedonia (June 21).

Even without the reassuring defensive presence of captain Virgil van Dijk, who has not recovered in time from his horror knee injury, they are fancied to advance to the knockout phase.

Dutch sides thrive on confidence and, with a little momentum, there is then a potential path to glory.

“We are not far off the favourites, we are in form and have the ability to beat any team,” added De Boer.

Much will depend on the midfield form of De Jong, stand-in skipper Georginio Wijnaldum and Davy Klaassen, who has had a strong season for club and country after rejoining Ajax Amsterdam and helping them to the league and cup double.

Memphis Depay, who has 23 goals in 62 internationals, leads an attack that sometimes adds Luuk de Jong in a classic target man role, or prefers wider forwards like Quincy Promes and Steven Berghuis.

Van Dijk’s absence in defence is a blow while Daley Blind is not sure of playing either after ankle surgery in March.

That leaves the defensive burden of responsibility on the 21-year-old De Ligt, who has had injury problems of his own, and Stefan de Vrij of Inter Milan.

“There is pressure on us but we are not running away from it. We think we can use it to energise our performances,” said De Boer.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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