World champions France will be looking to end a fantastic year on a high by beating the Netherlands and securing qualification for the Nations League Finals. The Dutch look rejuvenated under Ronald Koeman and in front of their own supporters in Rotterdam they will – at the very least – make life difficult for Didier Deschamps’ men, but France’s superior quality should ultimately shine through.
It has been a difficult few years for the Netherlands. There was always likely to come a time when a nation of 17 million people would struggle to produce a team with the requisite quality to regularly reach the latter stages of major international tournaments, but their failure to qualify for both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup came as a major shock.
This, after all, is a country who have won the former tournament and reached the final of the latter on three occasions, yet – damningly – they could not even secure a spot at an expanded European Championship two years ago, finishing below Czech Republic, Iceland and Turkey in a dismal qualification campaign which saw them lose no fewer than half of their 10 fixtures.
Green shoots of recovery have started to appear since their absence from the World Cup in Russia was confirmed in October 2017, however. National team stalwarts Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder have now departed the scene and the Dutch squad of today does not compare to their terrific generations of the 1970s and 1990s, yet there a handful of talented youngsters who offer hope for the future.
Chief among that crop are Ajax duo Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, both still just 19 years of age, while club-mate Donny van de Beek and PSV pair Steven Bergwijn and Pablo Rosario (all 21) are also bright prospects. With Virgil van Dijk at the back, Georginio Wijanldum in midfield and Memphis Depay – 5/2 with Betfair to score anytime – in the forward line, the Netherlands have the makings of a decent side.
They certainly demonstrated as much in the memorable 3-0 triumph over Germany in October, while Koeman’s men also performed creditably in a narrow 2-1 loss to France a month prior.
France are similarly blessed with a group of gifted young starlets, but the thing that sets them apart is the fact that they can also call upon a host of brilliant players who are in their mid-to-late 20s. Benjamin Mendy, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette, Thomas Lemar, Kingsley Coman, Lucas Hernandez, Corentin Tolisso, Adrien Rabiot and Samuel Umtiti are all missing from the current squad for one reason or another, but Deschamps still has the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Raphael Varane, Ousmane Dembele and N’Golo Kante at his disposal for this weekend’s trip to De Kuip.
The Dutch will take heart from the fact that regular starters Umtiti and Pogba will play no part this weekend, but Les Bleus have such strength in depth that they will be formidable opponents regardless of the XI Deschamps selects, and the variety of options available to the former midfielder will make it a tad more difficult for his opposite number to prepare for this game.
France’s World Cup success was primarily built on a solid defence, and we could see them adopt a conservative approach in this one – particularly as a draw would be enough to seal top spot in Group 1.
They certainly played in that manner in the 0-0 away draw with Germany at the start of the Nations League campaign, and although they were more attacking in subsequent home matches against both the Netherlands and the Germans, the current state of play in the group means France will look to avoid risks here.
In that light a clean sheet for the World Cup holders looks tempting at 12/5 with William Hill, while under 2.5 goals (42/41 with Unibet) in total could be another sound investment as Koeman’s charges, despite their recent improvements, may struggle to break down a well-organised unit.
As far as the overall outcome is concerned, France look good value at a best price of 7/5 with Unibet. They may not have wowed audiences at the World Cup but this is a team which specialises in efficiency, and they will be tough to break down for a Netherlands side whose revival remains in its infancy.
The hosts certainly have the potential to cause Les Bleus one or two problems in front of their own fans, but Deschamps’ men should be able to grind out another victory here.
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