Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman knows that however good a 3-0 victory over 2014 world champion Germany feels, it doesn’t mean his young team is where he wants it to be.
But with a crop of promising young players establishing themselves in the team, Saturday’s defeat of long-time rival Germany underscored that the future of Dutch football is looking bright after four years in the doldrums.
Three players made their first international appearance for the Netherlands at the Johan Cruyff Arena and none looked out of his depth. Koeman believes they will keep on improving.
“Take a look in five years,” the coach said after his team took the lead, defended well for long periods of Saturday’s Nations League match and then broke out to score twice in the closing minutes. “I think you will see a much better team.”
The Dutch central defense pairing of Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk and 19-year-old Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt gives Koeman a solid base on which to build. Both are fast, strong and confident bringing the ball forward. As Van Dijk showed when he headed in the opening goal on the half hour against Germany, the tall defenders are also a threat at set pieces.
De Ligt’s Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong is only 21 but the midfielder’s energy, confidence on the ball and eye for a telling pass reportedly have caught the attention of top clubs including Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Saturday’s match was only his third for the Netherlands, but he looked comfortable against Germany and his darting forward runs fit perfectly into Koeman’s game plan of defending and looking to hit Joachim Loew’s team on the counterattack.
“We won 3-0 and played well so that’s a party,” De Jong told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “But we can always improve.”
Up front, Memphis Depay is starting to fulfil his undoubted potential. Depay moved from PSV to Manchester United after some eye-catching performances at the World Cup in Brazil, but never established himself in the first team and now plays for Lyon in the French league. He scored his 12th goal in 41 internationals on Saturday with a calm finish late in the match to double the Dutch lead and has now found the net seven times in his last 10 internationals.
Koeman’s style of play is different from the “total football” of the Cruyff era that featured players swapping positions and exchanging quick passes in flowing attacks, but it is starting to look effective.
The first thing Koeman looked to do when he took over as coach in February was shore up the team’s leaky defense. Although they had some problems early against Germany, Van Dijk and De Ligt looked solid, while PSV right back Denzel Dumfries was impressive with his defense and his contributions in attack. Twice he provided crosses from the right that could have extended the Dutch lead.
On Tuesday, the Dutch get another tough test, playing Belgium in a friendly in Brussels. They will have to do so without Van Dijk, who is being rested because he is still feeling the effects of a rib injury he picked up last month playing for Liverpool against Southampton.
The players stressed Saturday that beating Germany was important because it confirmed that the team is starting to click.
“We felt like we were on the right track,” De Jong said. “The mood around the Dutch team became more positive, then it’s great if you can win an important match.”
Source: The Associated Press