When the Netherlands failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – the second straight international tournament they missed out on, following Euro 2016 – it seemed they had sunk so far, it would be years before they would be competitive again.
But new manager Ronald Koeman has led a stunning resurgence, which on Monday night saw the Oranje claim top spot in UEFA Nations League Group A after a 2-2 draw with Germany, and with it a spot in the tournament’s finals.
Here’s a look at the key players who have helped Koeman revive a flagging Netherlands.
Depay has been the star of the Dutch resurgence. In the 12 games since the end of that doomed World Cup qualification campaign, Depay has scored seven goals, and assisted another two.
Handed the prestigious No10 shirt following Wesley Sneijder’s retirement – the Dutch legend singled out his young colleague, presenting his shirt to Depay at the end of his final game – the Lyon star has thrived. He is now indisputably the creative hub of this team, a responsibility he’s relished – and fulfilled.
VIRGIL VAN DIJK
The Liverpool star has replicated his club form for his national team. With Van Dijk in their XI, the Dutch have kept five clean sheets in 10 games since last November, the sort of defensive form that allows confidence to flow through the rest of the team.
Van Dijk is a natural leader and it shows in the Dutch set-up. Having been handed the captaincy in March by Koeman, Van Dijk both commands the defence and serves as a guide for his young colleagues – his centre-back partner Matthijs de Ligt is 19, while right-back Denzel Dumfries is 22.
Plus, he’s been a reliable source of goals – three in his last 10 appearances to be precise.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT
Speaking of De Ligt, the teenager has burst on to the scene for the Netherlands and shown exactly why he’s such a highly-rated – and highly-coveted – prospect. He is now firmly entrenched as the first-choice centre-back alongside Van Dijk, having started all of the Netherlands’ last 11 games.
And he’s more than justified the hype. The youngster already looks like a composed veteran in the heart of the Dutch defence, and in his passing and distribution he carries all the hallmarks of a classical ‘Total football’ defender.
It’s no wonder Barcelona, Manchester City and a host of other top European clubs are looking to sign him.
It helps that he can do things like this:
📺 — Matthijs de Ligt twisting and turning past Toni Kroos. This kid can do it all. pic.twitter.com/zuZaUTAPMF— MOKUMFC (@mokumfc) November 20, 2018
FRENKIE DE JONG
De Ligt isn’t the only Ajax player who’s been catching the eye for club and country. De Jong has thrived in central midfield since being handed a belated debut in September. Since then, he’s shown just how inexplicable it was to not have given him a chance earlier.
Despite being only 21, De Jong already looks like a player who could be the star of the Dutch midfield for years to come. He’s already shown his creative side – only Depay, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daley Blind had more key passes during the Nations League. De Jong is the future of the Dutch midfield – and the future is now.
Frenkie de Jong vs France— FootballTalentScout (@FTalentScout) November 16, 2018
1 penalty won
93% pass accuracy
1 key pass
1 dribble won
2 tackles won
AMAZING PLAYER. 🇳🇱🧡 pic.twitter.com/QILVABx1OX
Frenkie de Jong’s passing vs. Germany in the first 45 minutes:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 19, 2018
43 passes completed
100% passing accuracy
The conductor of the orchestra 🇳🇱 pic.twitter.com/yCE94oSTaN
When the Dutch failed to qualify for two straight international tournaments, Blind seemed to be one of the problems at the heart of the malaise. His form for then club Manchester United had suffered, and that carried over onto the international stage.
It wasn’t a huge surprise when he wasn’t in the first squad Koeman named as manager.
A return to Ajax has paid dividends, however, as he’s rediscovered his form and reclaimed his place in the Dutch XI. As always, Blind’s calm passing and no-nonsense defending has been on display, and though he’s only 28 he’s already the senior statesman of this side.
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