As the U21 European Championship tournament kicks-off today, we at BeNeFoot.net thought it would be best to give you the rundown of the Dutch team which will feature in the tournament.
With a squad of 23 fantastic young players, the Netherlands U21s are one of the most exciting squads in the tournament and the expectations are great as they head into this competition.
This is one of the brightest generations the Netherlands have produced for some time. In fact, 12 of the 23-man squad have already made appearances for the senior national team, while players Jeroen Zoet and Tonny Trindade de Vilhena have been included but are yet to feature and Mike van der Hoorn and Bram Nuytinck have both made the pre-selection for the senior squad.
Of the entire 23-man squad available at coach Cor Pot’s disposal, only one hasn’t spent the last season in a top flight – third-choice goalkeeper Nick Marsman, who was an integral part of Go Ahead Eagles’ campaign as they won promotion to the Eredivisie. Beyond that, however, the squad includes only Kelvin Leerdam from Feyenoord is not an established first team player with his club. Even Danny Hoesen (Ajax) and Memphis Depay (PSV) featured in over half the league games this season but neither are expected to be pivotal in this upcoming tournament.
The true quality lies elsewhere in this squad and that quality has not only been evident throughout the season but it has been blatant.
Beyond Marsman, Cor Pot has two secure young goalkeepers in Jeroen Zoet, a crucial part of RKC Waalwijk last term during his loan spell, and Marco Bizot, who displaced Luciano as Groningen’s first-choice shot stopper half way through the season. Zoet, the more experienced and more adept shot-stopper will be Pot’s main goalkeeper, but Bizot will be ready to step in if needed.
The resilient defence
Defensively, Cor Pot’s team looks very strong, with some of the best defenders in the Eredivisie available to choose from. While once fans of Dutch football bemoaned the lack of quality defenders, that’s all changed. What’s particularly striking about that Netherlands back line is that all four players have become established members of the senior squad. Van Rhijn was drafted in by new coach Louis van Gaal to replace Gregory van der Wiel after his dismal Euro 2012 showing, while De Vrij and Martins Indi came in to add some mobility and freshness to the centre and Daley Bind has played three times for the Oranje.
Ricardo van Rhijn
Rightback Ricardo van Rhijn has been an integral part of Ajax’s side throughout the last season and a half, helping Frank De Boer’s side to two titles. As with most fullbacks in modern football, van Rhijn is an attack-minded player who can, at times, be rather negligent when it comes to defensive duties. However, that isn’t to say he is completely useless when it comes to tracking back and defending the centre-backs from the wings – he can more than hold his own. A fast and skilful fullback who can whip in a good cross from the flank or cut in and shoot from the edge of the area, van Rhijn is already showing more promise than his Ajax predecessor Gregory van der Wiel and, crucially, he comes without the distractions and attitude problems. He seems to be developing into a top professional and his time in Israel will be as important for his development as he is to the Netherlands’ cause.
De Vrij and Martins Indi
Feyenoord duo Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi will make up the main central defensive partnership. These two know each other very well and are already established in the national team. De Vrij has improved significantly in the last season throughout which he has been partnered with veteran defender Joris Mathijsen and it is important to note that, despite the experience of the latter, it is the youngster who wears the captain’s armband for his club. De Vrij is a technically sound and very athletic defender as well as a good leader and he will be the lynchpin to this resilient defence.
The understanding that De Vrij and Martins Indi have developed throughout their time together in the Feyenoord team will be of the utmost importance. Although Martins Indi is usually deployed as a left-back at club level, he is more comfortable in the centre and has spoken of his desire to be used as such. “BMI” is a big and strong defender, qualities which complement those of De Vrij to make a strong partnership in the heart of defence.
On the left will be Ajax’s Daley Blind, the son of former Ajax and Netherlands legend Danny. The full-back has developed immensely over the last 18 months and has gone from a player hated by the Amsterdam natives to a fan hero and was named Ajax Player of the Season in May. Like teammate Van Rhijn, Blind is a fullback who is much stronger going forward than he is when it comes to defending, often resembling a winger more than a defender. The system Ajax use tends to suit him more than any other system would as they can cover for the gap he leaves on that side, however, when he is moved into another system, such as with the national team, the area he leaves unattended can be exploited more easily by an opponent.
The backup options
Importantly though, this foursome is backed up by some exceptional talents. Utrecht’s Mike van der Hoorn is a very strong and reliable centre-back and his development over the last year has been impressive. Bram Nuytinck also offers good backup for the heart of the defence. The Anderlecht youngster has improved a lot since his move from NEC in August and was the captain of this side before the influx of defenders from the senior side. Patrick van Aanholt has been one of the brightest full-backs in the Eredivisie since joining Vitesse on loan from Chelsea and the left-back will be somewhat disappointed if he does indeed find himself having to settle for a place on the bench behind Blind as is expected to be the case. The fact that these three backup defenders could form a strong backline on their own shows how strong this squad really is. The only thing missing is a reliable second right-back, but in Kelvin Leerdam, a defensive midfielder who can operate in that position will cover for Van Rhijn should the need arise. Leerdam hasn’t had the best of campaigns. He played only 11 games for Feyenoord this season, but he has been a loyal servant to the Under 21 team having made 18 appearances for the team and will be ready to slot in if disaster strikes Van Rhijn.
The juicy middle
Such a strong back four means Pot can put together an attacking midfield and forward line, confident that his team can deal with the pressure which they’ll be put under should they be hit with speed from an opponent. The Jong Oranje midfield is truly remarkable. So exciting are the players that the coach must choose from that it seems rather unfair that three of the six available must miss out in a place in the starting XI.
It is expected that Kevin Strootman, Jordy Clasie and Adam Maher will make up the midfield three for the first match against Germany. These three players are rated very highly in Netherlands and could hold their own against many senior teams. In fact, they are generally the best midfielders in the country despite their age and all three have been linked over the last year to a top European team. Clasie, Strootman and Maher combine to make a balanced and very exciting midfield. The idea of seeing them perform together in this competition is a mouth watering prospect in itself, but they have a bright future as individuals and as a midfield trio which everyone in Holland will be hoping they can carry onto the senior team.
Clasie, the more defensive of the three, is often described as the “Dutch Xavi” and has been an integral part of a wonderful Feyenoord team which challenged for the Eredivisie title throughout last season and finished runner-up the year before. Clasie is an incredibly hard working midfielder with fantastic technical ability. His passing range and accuracy is superb and that, combined with his creativity and reading of the game make him a joy to watch.
Strootman, heavily linked to a move to Manchester United in recent months, is the side’s box-to-box midfielder. With 18 caps, he has made more appearances for the senior Netherlands team than anyone else in this squad, and he is seen as the future Oranje captain. He is a fantastic athlete with intelligence, pace and technique. With his assists and goals, the 23-year-old was central to a campaign with PSV which started off magnificently but went pear-shaped around the halfway point and became a big disappointment.
Although PSV lost the league title and were defeated in the Dutch Cup Final, Strootman was generally one of their top performers throughout. Indeed, some would argue his absence through injury from the 2012 European Championship was sorely felt. Although he wouldn’t have carried Netherlands to the final, he would have provided a certain dig and dynamism to the midfield, which was severely lacking in the team. Strootman is expected to shake off the disappointment of the campaign which has just finished and provide the required spark and strength in the midfield. One enjoyable aspect of Strootman’s play is the intriguing ability he possesses to break down an opponents’ attack and spark one for his own team in one fluid movement. It’s an invaluable skill to have and it has served him well in these early years of his career.
The other midfielder expected to start most games in this tournament is 19-year-old wonderkid Maher. The AZ starlet is a magnificent young player and it has been apparent for a full season now that the teenager has outgrown the Alkmaar club. Expected to join either Ajax or PSV this summer, the Moroccan-born midfielder will be able to further enhance his stock with a convincing display throughout the next 13 days. Operating just behind the midfielder, Maher’s creativity and use of the ball makes him a joy to behold. He is remarkably confident and it doesn’t take long to work out why. He has an incredible first touch, which, combined with his skill and close control, makes it very difficult for defenders to get the ball off of him as he has a knack for creating danger with his direct runs towards the box. What makes Maher a very admirable youngster is his tenacity and his determination. He is a player who never gives up and even when there are a lack of options ahead of him or a lack of quality, he will still try his utmost to rescue something for his team, even if it means unleashing shot after shot towards an opponent’s net from long range. As he showed in the KNVB Beker final, he is more than capable of delivering on the big occasion.
The remaining three midfielders in the team are arguably just as good. Marco van Ginkel, Leroy Fer and Tonny Trindade de Vilhena are all expected to go on to achieve wonderful things in their career and each have been marvellous in the Dutch top flight so far.
Marco van Ginkel
If these three are the starting midfielders throughout the tournament, then it’s a shame to see Eredivisie Young Player of the Year Marco van Ginkel miss out on a place. The Vitesse player, rumoured to be close to joining Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, is a dynamic young midfielder who has improved consistently each year since making his Eredivisie debut as a 17-year-old. The Amersfoort-born star was one of the star players for the Arnhem side and was one of the main suppliers to Ivorian frontman Wilfried Bony as he went onto score 31 goals in the Dutch league this season. Van Ginkel, another member of this squad to have been given a cap for Van Gaal’s Oranje, is a determined but very modest player, but his potential is undeniable.
Fer is another midfielder who will be unlucky not to make the first-team. With his drive, strength and skill, Twente looked a completely different and much more potent side than they did in his absence. Having just turned 23, Fer is eligible to play in this tournament having been born just four days after the cut (1st January 1990). The player missed a significant part of last season due to injury and later, when a promising move to Everton fell through at the last moment, he was clearly disappointed and it affected his performances quite severely. As the campaign wore on, however, he perked up and soon started playing with his usual swagger and guided his team through to the Europa League playoff final with Utrecht with his goals and assists. Twente may have lost out at the final hurdle, but it was important for Fer to be back to his best in time for this tournament.
Tonny Trindade de Vilhena
Vilhena approaches this tournament as a recent champion with the Dutch team, having been a member of the under-17 squad which won the European Championship last summer. It says enough about his development over the last year that he has since made himself one of the standout performers in the Feyenoord first-team. At just 18 he was eased into the Feyenoord team before cementing himself as a star and, at this point, there’s no telling where this precocious young player will end up. He isn’t expected to be in the starting XI very often in this tournament, but he will definitely feature and be prepared for some electric performances from a fearless, fast and very dangerous midfielder.
The front three, for the opening game against Germany at least, is expected to be made up of Georginio Wijnaldum on the right wing, Ola John on the left and Luuk de Jong spearheading the attacks. This means Florian Jozefzoon, Danny Hoesen and Memphis Depay will be left out. Again, a formidable partnership in this area, with some very talented individuals able to be called on from the bench.
Wijnaldum is coming off the back of an exemplary season with PSV. With 14 goals and five assists last season is a significant improvement on the previous year’s statistics. The main worry, however, is that, for PSV this season, Wijnaldum has been rather poor whenever he has been utilised as a winger. Much more effective and comfortable when used as an attacking midfielder, his creativity is limited in wider areas and he tends to narrow the play on that side. However, when it comes to the Under 21 team, he is used on the right side more often than he is through the middle and it tends to work very well. Throughout the season, Wijnaldum’s performances have been of minimal flair and extravagance – just pure effectiveness, which is what Pot will be hoping for throughout this competition.
On the other side, John is an out-and-out left-winger with great pace and has linked up well with the likes of Oscar Cardozo and Lima throughout his time at Benfica. He comes to this tournament a more developed and experienced player thanks to his time in Portugal following a move from Twente last summer. John didn’t have the easiest start to life in the Primeira Liga, but he featured in most matches and created a lot for the eventual runners-up and Europa League finalists. He’s quick, has great skill and is a good crosser of the ball. John is fun to watch and he will create a lot for De Jong this summer as he carries the ball on from midfield or is picked out by Maher on the flank.
Luuk De Jong
With such a talented and creative side around him, there’s a lot of pressure on De Jong to round off the expectedly numerous chances which are made for him. Following a big money move from Twente, life at Gladbach got off to a bad start for the full Dutch international. The first time the striker hit the net was against his own team in a Champions League qualifier which essentially ensured they wouldn’t reach the group stages of the tournament. Then, after scoring two goals in his first seven league games, he missed the following nine matches due to injury. He recovered, however, and began to build some consistency throughout the remainder of the season, finishing the campaign with six goals in the Bundesliga and two assists, with a further two goals in the Europa League. The 22-year-old is a strong striker who is good at linking up with those around him and bringing them into play.
De Jong is the most experienced and reliable striker in the squad, but the Netherlands have good backup in the shape of Danny Hoesen. The youngster, who joined Ajax from Fulham earlier this season, has benefited immensely from the playing time he has been given since his arrival in Amsterdam. The specialist training he has been given in Holland and the belief of coach De Boer has seen him develop into a more adept and potent striker. He featured three times in the Champions League and made 18 Eredivisie appearances, scoring five and setting up one. He will likely feature from the bench in Israel, but he’s a good player to bring on if the juniors are looking for a goal.
The PSV man is a versatile forward who tends to be used on the left wing with the Eindhoven giants. Many previous coaches have complained about Depay having a bit of an attitude problem. He has complained about a lack of playing time in the last year under coach Dick Advocaat, but he still made 20 appearances for PSV in the season just finished. His pace and control mean he will make life difficult for any full-back he comes up against should he be utilised.
Jozefzoon has been one of his side’s best players throughout the past season. Having featured in every league game, Jozefzoon scored seven goals for RKC as a right-winger and set up a further five. He’s short, but very quick and has great control and will offer a lot of width on that side should it be required. He is another player who you could argue is unlucky to be missing out on a place in the starting XI but he will get his chance to shine in Israel.
What do we expect?
With this generation, the Dutch are expected to do very well. They are a group of strong and remarkably talented individuals and it is up to coach Cor Pot to put them together and form a team. These players tend to complement each other, though, and stand a great chance of getting out of the very difficult group in which they have been drawn. They have the skill and ability to progress to the final of this tournament but Dutch national sides often find ways of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They need a good start to the competition to boost their confidence and get everything underway. Thursday’s game against Germany will be the perfect test of their worth, but they stand a great chance here.