On Thursday night, the Netherlands host Northern Ireland in a game that could prove pivotal to both teams’ chances of qualifying for Euro 2020. Both teams are in good positions in the group. However, with Germany also in Group C
Once again punching above their weight
Northern Ireland are once again mixing with the big footballing countries and not looking out of place. At the beginning of the qualification campaign, most would have had Germany and the Netherlands as likely automatic qualifiers from the group. The two giants of the international game may still clinch the top two spots in Group C.
However, Northern Ireland have done what they have done best under Michael O’Neill and punched above their weight during the campaign. They currently sit second in the table level on points with leaders Germany.
The Netherlands have a game in-hand and will move level with O’Neill’s team with a victory in Rotterdam. A home win is not a foregone conclusion, such has been the visitor’s ability to beat the odds in recent years.
O’Neill has created an atmosphere around the Northern Ireland squad where nothing surprises you with the visitors. While they do not have superstar players, the team is far stronger than the sum of its parts. O’Neill deserves immense credit for his teams continued competitive spirit.
The Netherlands has undergone a resurgence of late
The home side has missed out on the last two major tournaments. They made their mark in the Nations League, but most consider the competition nothing more than a friendly replacement. The Oranje seems to have a freshness about them after the arrival of former Everton boss Ronald Koeman as head coach.
There is also a regeneration of the squad the likes of Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong are the most notable players to break into the squad and team. The youngster’s performances for Ajax in their run to the Champions League semi-final earned them big moves to Juventus and Barcelona respectively. They add energy and enthusiasm to the Dutch team
At centre-back, Virgil van Dijk adds calm and reassurance to the whole team. There are few better players plying their trade than the former Celtic star. To have such a solid character in the team would give his teammates such confidence.
The current Netherlands team is a far cry to the often-divided teams of the last 20 years. They seem like a very tight-knit group and it is showing in the results on the pitch. There is also a good mix of young players and more experienced pros.
Northern Ireland will not be an easy obstacle to overcome
While the Netherlands are currently favourites at odds of 1/5 to see-off Northern Ireland, it is unlikely to be a walk in the park for the Dutch. O’Neill’s team is full of highly experienced players, who work relentlessly for their team.
The team know exactly what is expected of them and where they should be when. That sort of organisation is often hard to break down. However, the Netherlands will be highly confident of beating the visitors and taking another step closer to qualification for Euro 2020, their first major international tournament appearance since finishing third place at World Cup 2014.
Will the Netherlands have enough quality to see-off a stubborn Northern Ireland team on Thursday night?
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