The Netherlands back in the old days
After failing to qualify for Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup, the Netherlands are back in the spotlight and aim to make a strong impression in this European Championship in a group that also includes Austria, Ukraine and beginners from North Macedonia.
AFP Sport takes a look at the four teams trying to reach the knockout stages.
After a period of slump, the Netherlands again seem a force to be reckoned with despite entering the Euro without center-back Virgil van Dijk as he recovers from a knee injury. Their revival began under Ronald Koeman, who took them to the Nations League final in 2019 and also oversaw a 4-2 victory in Germany in qualifying as the Dutch finished second in Group C.
However, Koeman left last August to join Barcelona. They got off to a slow start under new coach Frank de Boer and lost 4-2 in Turkey in World Cup qualifying in March. Nevertheless, they show quality in their entire squad, from Matthijs de Ligt in central defense to Frenkie de Jong and Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield and Memphis Depay and Wout Weghorst up front. Playing group games at home in Amsterdam is an added boost.
Player to watch: Frenkie de Jong
De Jong is the new Dutch generation, the 24-year-old midfielder having broken through since the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. After helping Ajax reach the Champions League semi-finals in 2019 , the deep playmaker moved to Barcelona on a very important contract and struggled to find his best form at first. However, he has just finished an outstanding season with the Catalans under Koeman, adding late goals in the box and goals to his game.
Ukraine have qualified for a third consecutive Euro and will be eager to make a better impression this time around after coming out in the group stage when they co-hosted with Poland in 2012, then failing to score a goal or a point in 2016.
Under Andriy Shevchenko, the legendary former striker who led his country to the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals, Ukraine dominated their Euro 2020 qualifying group ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
Notable recent results include a home victory in the Nations League against Spain and a draw against France in the World Cup qualifiers.
Player to watch: Oleksandr Zinchenko
The 24-year-old has had an impressive season at Manchester City. Used mainly at left-back by Pep Guardiola, Zinchenko generally plays a central role in midfield for his country and wore the captain’s armband during their World Cup qualifiers in March.
Austria haven’t won a match in one of their two previous Euro appearances: as co-host of Euro 2008, then Euro 2016.
Here they are seen as a potentially dangerous underdog, with a 26-man squad containing 21 players who played in the Bundesliga last season.
Germany’s Franco Foda took the lead after a poor performance in 2018 World Cup qualifying, and Austria recovered from losing their first two Euro qualifiers to place second in their group behind Poland.
Player to watch: David Alaba
Alaba, 28, has won everything in the last decade at Bayern Munich and will take on a new challenge at Real Madrid after the Euro. After making a name for himself as a left-back, he continued to play regularly at Bayern center-back. He can also play in a central midfielder and has been used on his country’s left wing.
Qualifying for a first major tournament has been a sensational achievement for the Balkan nation of two million people who have made major strides under coach Igor Angelovsky in recent years.
They came third in their qualifying group behind Poland and Austria, but managed to advance to the finals via the Nations League play-offs. A 1-0 victory in Georgia last November secured their historic qualification.
Player to watch: Goran Pandev
It will likely be the 37-year-old’s one and only shot in a major tournament with his country after a successful club career, which culminated in a Champions League victory with Inter in 2010. Still playing in the Serie A for Genoa, it was fitting that Pandev, who has 118 caps for his country, scored the goal in Georgia which ensured the qualification.
Group C matches (all IST times)
June 13, Sunday – Austria v North Macedonia (9:30 p.m. Bucharest)
June 14, Monday – Netherlands vs Ukraine (12:30 p.m. Amsterdam)
Thursday June 17 – Ukraine vs North Macedonia (6.30 p.m. Bucharest)
Friday June 18 – Netherlands vs Austria (12:30 p.m. Amsterdam)
Monday June 21 – Ukraine vs Austria (9:30 p.m. Bucharest)
June 21, Monday – North Macedonia vs Netherlands (9:30 p.m. Amsterdam)
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