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Netherlands Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

:Headline: Netherlands Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player:
Ahead of this summer's Euros, Sports Mole previews the Netherlands' chances as they return to the continental stage following their 2016 failure.
Sports Mole

With the much-maligned Frank de Boer in control of the reins, the Netherlands return to the competitive stage at Euro 2020 after their farcical failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Oranje did not participate at Euro 2016 either - a dismal downturn in fortunes for a side who secured a third-placed finish at the 2014 World Cup - but they are back where they belong and ready to stake their claim as one of Europe's leading nations once more.

Almost 10 years on from finding themselves at the top of the FIFA World Rankings, the Netherlands head into Euro 2020 in 16th place in the standings, and it has been 33 years since the heroes of 1988 lifted Oranje's only European Championship trophy to date.

Here, Sports Mole provides an in-depth assessment of the Netherlands' chances at the Euros.


GROUP

As the highest-ranked team in their group, the Netherlands would be expected to sail through to the knockout stages as group winners, but De Boer's side cannot afford to have that mindset before a ball is kicked in Group C.

Oranje kick off their Euro 2020 campaign on home soil against Ukraine, but a much sterner test awaits them a few days later as Austria pay a visit to the Johan Cruijff ArenA.

De Boer's men complete their group-stage run with another fixture on familiar territory against North Macedonia - appearing in their first-ever major tournament - so Netherlands fans must surely be able to look ahead to a positive conclusion to a hopefully straightforward Group C.

FIXTURES

June 13: The Netherlands vs. Ukraine (8pm, Johan Cruijff ArenA, Amsterdam)
June 17: The Netherlands vs. Austria (8pm, Johan Cruijff ArenA, Amsterdam)
June 21: North Macedonia vs. The Netherlands (5pm, Johan Cruijff ArenA, Amsterdam)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

The Netherlands' Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in Group C went largely as expected, as Oranje - then under the tutelage of Ronald Koeman - secured second spot and a place in the finals behind group winners Germany.

Koeman's side took just 50 seconds to open the scoring in their qualification period as Memphis Depay capitalised on a defensive error against Belarus, and the Lyon man would then go on to net a penalty before assisting Georginio Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk for a 4-0 win on matchday one.

Depay was also on hand to net against Germany three days later, but a last minute Nico Schulz winner condemned Netherlands to what would be their only defeat in Group C, as Oranje would enjoy a near-perfect run to the summer's tournament afterwards.

A sweeping second-half display of attacking dominance saw the Netherlands get revenge on Germany by beating them 4-2 in their third game, and they followed up that result with three successive wins over Estonia, Northern Ireland and Belarus to all but confirm their place in the top two.

Northern Ireland managed to keep the gap at three points by holding the Netherlands to a goalless stalemate on the penultimate matchday, but Oranje thrashed Estonia 5-0 in their final game - during which Wijnaldum scored three - while Northern Ireland's 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany saw Koeman's men steer six points clear in second spot, and they would ultimately qualify two points behind group winners Germany.


RECENT FORM

The autumnal period of 2020 was a torrid affair for the Netherlands and their impassioned supporters, as Oranje endured a five-game winless run after overcoming Poland 1-0 in the first game of their Nations League campaign.

Dwight Lodeweges oversaw a 1-0 defeat to Italy before stepping aside for De Boer to take over, and the ex-Crystal Palace boss had to endure a run of four games without success before the Netherlands managed to produce the goods against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Netherlands have only been looking upwards since the turn of the year - although their first game of World Cup qualification ended in a humbling 4-2 defeat to Turkey - but they responded with a 2-0 success over Latvia before thrashing Gibraltar 7-0 in Group G.

During their warm-up encounters for Euro 2020, the Netherlands had to rely on the brilliance of Depay to bail them out of trouble against Scotland, who were 2-1 up before Depay scored his second of the game in the 89th minute to rescue a draw.

Oranje experienced no such difficulty against Georgia last Sunday, though, as Depay was on the scoresheet alongside Wout Weghorst and Ryan Gravenberch in a 3-0 rout, but the calibre of the Netherlands' opponents will soon improve considerably.


SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Marco Bizot (AZ), Tim Krul (Norwich City), Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax)

Defenders: Patrick van Aanholt (Crystal Palace), Nathan Ake (Manchester City), Daley Blind (Ajax), Denzel Dumfries (PSV Eindhoven), Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus), Jurrien Timber (Ajax), Joel Veltman (Brighton & Hove Albion), Stefan de Vrij (Inter Milan), Owen Wijndal (AZ)

Midfielders: Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax), Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Teun Koopmeiners (AZ), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)

Forwards: Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord), Cody Gakpo (PSV), Luuk de Jong (Sevilla), Donyell Malen (PSV), Memphis Depay (Lyon), Quincy Promes (Spartak Moskva), Wout Weghorst (Wolfsburg)


STAR PLAYER - MEMPHIS DEPAY

After a stellar campaign with Lyon appears to have earned him a dream move to Barcelona, Memphis Depay is the go-to man for the Netherlands, and it is hard to believe that the attacker is still only 27 years of age sometimes.

No player in the Oranje's Euro 2020 squad has scored more than his 26 goals in 64 appearances for the national team, but he still has some work to do if he to enter the elite crowd of the Netherlands' all-time record goalscorers, as 10th-placed Wesley Sneijder is five ahead of Depay on 31 strikes.

An artist on and off the pitch, Depay - also renowned for his musical career - enters this summer's tournament having netted 20 goals and assisted 12 more in 37 Ligue 1 appearances during the 2020-21 campaign, but his efforts were not enough to propel Les Gones back into the Champions League.

Whether Depay's imminent move to Barcelona will be wrapped up before the Euros kicks off remains to be seen, but he has scored or assisted in each of his last seven appearances for the Netherlands and will hope to play a starring role in a successful summer for his country.


MANAGER - FRANK DE BOER

With his abysmal time in the Crystal Palace dugout now consigned to history, Dutch legend Frank de Boer will take his place in the hotseat for the European Championship, but his appointment is still being met with raised eyebrows to this day.

A successful six-year spell in control of Ajax between 2010 and 2016 preceded miserable stints with Inter Milan and Palace for the former defender - who took charge of just five matches for the Eagles before being given the boot - and he enjoyed a short but sweet career with MLS side Atlanta United before returning home.

Third on the all-time appearance list for the Netherlands, De Boer drew three and lost one of his first four matches at the helm, but he recovered with four wins from his following five fixtures, and the Netherlands went unbeaten in four Nations League games under his tutelage.

The 51-year-old was also assistant to Bert van Marwijk during the Netherlands' run to the World Cup final in 2010, and despite his legendary status as a player, he has plenty of work to do if he is to win over the Oranje faithful as a manager.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: Winners (1988)

A collection of some of the finest names that Dutch football has had to offer stepped foot onto the Olympiastadion turf for the Euro 1988 final against the Soviet Union, with Rinus Michels aiming to steer Oranje to their maiden international honour.

It took all of 32 minutes for captain Ruud Gullit to open the scoring with a bullet header, but Marco van Basten would make headlines with one of the most iconic goals in Euros history, as the striker met Arnold Muhren's cross at the back post and unleashed a thunderous volley over the head of Rinat Dasayev from a tight angle.

Goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen would go on to concede and save a penalty in the second half as the Netherlands marched to European glory for the first time, prior to which their best finish had been third place at the 1976 edition.

Oranje soon made a habit of collecting bronze medals at the championships as they claimed third-placed finishes in 1992, 2000 and 2004, with a quarter-final exit to France in 1996 representing the outlier in that sequence.

The Netherlands' recent endeavours at the Euros have not been as memorable, though, as they suffered more quarter-final heartbreak in 2008 before a group-stage exit in 2012, and their doomed 2016 qualifying campaign saw them miss out on a spot in the finals for the first time since 1984.


PREDICTION

One can only imagine what the future would hold for De Boer if his side flatter to deceive at Euro 2020, but with Depay leading the charge, Oranje should have no problem securing a first-placed finish in Group C.

A clash with one of the top-ranked third-placed teams awaits for the Netherlands should they top the group, and there is a very real chance that Germany could lie in wait for De Boer's side, who would be no match for their counterparts in the last-16 stage.

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