France head coach Didier Deschamps has cautioned his players against underestimating Netherlands when the countries meet in Thursday’s World Cup qualifier at the Stade de France.
Deschamps’ men sit three points ahead of their opponents in second place in Group A, level on points with leaders Sweden who inflicted a surprise defeat upon Les Bleus in June.
World Cup semi-finalists three years ago, Netherlands have suffered a fall from grace having failed to reach Euro 2016.
Defeat away to Bulgaria during the current campaign led to Danny Blind being sacked as head coach and, after a 5-0 win over minnows Luxembourg, Dick Advocaat now faces the first significant challenge of his third spell at the helm.
Great things are expected of Deschamps’ current crop, boasting stars such as Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Paul Pogba, but he feels a Netherlands squad still featuring Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and the recalled Robin van Persie should give any team cause for concern.
“Their problem is that they did not qualify for Euro 2016,” the France boss told a pre-match news conference. “They did a great World Cup in 2014.
“There are a lot of experienced players who are still there. A new generation is coming. I don’t think the level of Dutch football has gone down, quite the opposite.
“There are always very good players, the oldest who are still there and the young ones, who have a lot of quality.
“It remains a strong European nation but it is true that the fact they were not in Euro 2016 in France is a break, a lack of exposure on the international level.”
— Equipe de France (@equipedefrance) August 30, 2017
Captain Hugo Lloris echoed his coach’s calls for focus with the group a little too close for comfort for the pre-qualification favourites.
“There is always the possibility to play the play-offs, but at the moment we really don’t think about it. We have all our chances to finish first in this group,” said the Tottenham goalkeeper.
“We know that it’s going to be between us, Sweden and the Netherlands, and we can add Bulgaria if they do a good performance against the Swedes.
“Honestly, we’re really focused on this game. We are not here to make fiction. We are focused on this very important match.”
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