Euro 2020 Group C: Dutch back in the big time

The Netherlands are ready and aiming to make a big impression in this year's European Championship

AFP June 03, 2021


After failing to qualify for Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup, the Netherlands are back in the big time and aiming to make a big impression in this European Championship in a group also containing Austria, Ukraine and debutants North Macedonia.

AFP Sport casts its eye over the four teams trying to reach the knockout stage.

After a spell in the doldrums, the Netherlands look a force to be reckoned with again despite coming into the Euro without centre-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 win in Germany in qualifying as the Dutch finished second in Group C.

However, Koeman departed last August to join Barcelona. They had a slow start under new coach Frank de Boer and lost 4-2 in Turkey in World Cup qualifying in March. Nevertheless they boast quality throughout their side, from Matthijs de Ligt in central defence 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 extra boost.

De Jong embodies 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-lying playmaker moved to Barcelona in a big-money deal and initially struggled to find his best form. However he is coming off an outstanding season with the Catalans under Koeman, adding late runs into 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 after going out in the group stage when they co-hosted with Poland in 2012, and then failing to register a goal or a point in 2016.

Under Andriy Shevchenko, the legendary former striker who captained his country to the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals, Ukraine topped their Euro 2020 qualifying group ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.

Notable recent results include a home Nations League win over Spain and holding France to a draw away in World Cup qualifying.

The 24-year-old has had an impressive season at Manchester City. Used primarily at left-back by Pep Guardiola, Zinchenko usually plays in a central midfield role for his country and wore the captain's armband in their World Cup qualifiers in March.

Austria failed to win a game in either of their two previous appearances at a Euro: as co-hosts of Euro 2008 and then at Euro 2016.

Here they are regarded as a potentially dangerous outsider, with a 26-man squad containing 21 players who featured in the German Bundesliga in this past season.

The German Franco Foda took charge after a poor showing in 2018 World Cup qualifying, and Austria recovered from losing their first two Euro qualifiers to come second in their group behind Poland.

Alaba, 28, has won everything going over the last decade at Bayern Munich and will take up a new challenge at Real Madrid after the Euro. After making his name as a left-back, he has gone on to play regularly at centre-back for Bayern. He can also play in central midfield and has been used on the left wing for his country.

Qualifying for a first major tournament was a sensational achievement for the Balkan nation of two million who have made major steps forward under coach Igor Angelovski in recent years.

They came third in their qualifying group behind Poland and Austria but earned a crack at a finals berth via the Nations League play-offs. A 1-0 win in Georgia last November secured their historic qualification.

This is likely to be the 37-year-old's one and only shot at a major tournament with his country after a successful career at club level, capped by winning the Champions League with Inter in 2010.

Still playing in Serie A for Genoa, it was fitting that Pandev, who has 118 caps for his country, scored the goal in Georgia that secured qualification.


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