The Euro 2020 Qualifiers clash between the Netherlands and Germany on Sunday is among the most anticipated of the international fixtures.
After an impressive midweek victory over Belarus, a young and vibrant Oranje side will command the attention of fans inside the Amsterdam Arena eager to see them in action.
Germany on the other hand have plenty of questions to answer, against an outfit that’s gotten the better of them in recent times.
Rarely has there been a role reversal this notable, or indeed so well timed. From European powerhouse, finishing as runners-up at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Netherlands’ plethora of stars aged quickly and supply from the younger generation struggled to meet demands.
Germany, world champions in 2014, are flirting with a similar fate. Their shocking group-stage exit in Russia last year began a phenomenal fall from grace and relegation in the UEFA Nations League confirmed that their World Cup failings were no mere hiccup, but evidence of deep-rooted concerns.
For Die Mannschaft, this is a crucial encounter. They can’t afford defeat in the opening game of their European championship qualifying campaign. Yet, recent history suggests they might have to brace for precisely that.
Twice they faced Netherlands in the Nations League and were thwarted. A significant 3-0 defeat in Amsterdam was followed by a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture where the visiting Dutchmen salvaged a result in dramatic fashion, coming from behind to book a semi-final clash against England later this year.
The kind of renaissance Oranje have enjoyed under Ronald Koeman must be the envy of German supporters in these uncertain times. After hopelessly failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 under Dick Advocaat, the former Everton boss has turned things around by restoring a style of play and philosophy that has endeared him to fans.
Since his appointment in March last year, the Netherlands have lost just two of their 11 matches – to England and world champions France (who they beat in the reverse fixture).
Germany will hope their own revival is just around the corner but they may only arrive at that juncture after their meeting with the Dutch who enjoyed a convincing 4-0 win over Belarus on Thursday while they toiled in a 1-1 draw with Serbia the day before.
LOW’S NEW FACES
🇩🇪— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) March 20, 2019
- Thomas Muller ❌
- Julian Draxler ❌
- Mats Hummels ❌
- Jerome Boateng ❌
- Sami Khedira ❌
- Mario Gotze ❌
Only 3 players from Germany's 2014 World Cup squad have been selected for the 2020 Euro qualifiers. #GERSER pic.twitter.com/2R5JgSai2A
Managers live and die by their decisions and Low made some massive ones when he announced his squad this month. Not only did he exclude three high-profile members of the national team’s set in Jerome Boateng (30), Mats Hummels (30) and Thomas Muller (29), but effectively ended their international careers – unless of course his potential dismissal in the near future paves the way for their returns.
To nudge players of that calibre into what could be relatively early retirement has invited more pressure on him. Low is now asking the likes of Lukas Klostermann, 22, (who was injured against Serbia), Niklas Sule, 23, and Kai Havertz, 19, to hit the ground running in national colours.
Leroy Sane – a player he didn’t trust enough to take to the World Cup less than a year ago – must play a crucial role in attack. Meanwhile, Joshua Kimmich is being asked to operate in a midfield double pivot and though possessing all the tools to succeed in that role, rarely features there at club level.
Early signs have not been promising with Germany struggling to create chances against Serbia and having to settle for a draw.
MAIN MAN MEMPHIS
Oh Memphis Depay. Lovely assist.— Joe Short (@_jshort) March 21, 2019
Reckon he could play in the Premier League that kid… pic.twitter.com/LF7gekYNx2
Memphis Depay has been the face of the Netherlands’ resurgence over the last year. In his last 14 games, the Lyon attacker has scored 10 times, bagging four assists.
Koeman deserves credit for the 25-year-old’s transformation. Following a hugely disappointing spell at Manchester United, Depay has resurrected his career in Ligue 1 but the Dutch boss made the call to play him up front. The decision may have been aided by the dearth of quality strikers who fit into the system, but it’s paid dividends.
While he isn’t always the most clinical of frontmen, Depay’s creativity is crucial and gets the most out of the mobile attackers around him. His all-encompassing display against Belarus was the ideal showcase of his influence in this set-up. The forward scored twice – one confidently dispatched from the spot – and provided the assists for the other two goals.
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