It had been a disastrous four years for the Dutch international football, first being left out of Euro 2016 and then from the World Cup 2018. The golden generation led by the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Snejder and Robin van Persie had come to the end of their glorious road and couldn’t carry the team any longer. The torch needed to be passed along after the four-year hiatus from international tournaments and the new generation duly answered the call.
The Netherlands qualified to Euro 2020 with one game left to play after drawing in Belfast against Northern Ireland. The Dutch dominated the match, but failed to score, and the hosts had a chance to get one from a penalty, but Steven Davies blasted the ball into the row Z. Nil-nil draw meant that the Netherlands head automatically to their first international tournament since winning bronze in 2014 World Cup. Northern-Ireland will head to the playoffs due to newly introduced Nations League format.
The emergence of the Netherlands new generation has been in the cards for a while. Amsterdam Ajax reached the Champions League semi-final last season and it is only the tip of the iceberg. Compared to the team fielded in the last game of failed World Cup 2018 qualification, only goalkeeper Jesper Cillessen, defender Virgil van Dijk and all-around workhorse Daley Blind featured also in the most recent game of the Euro 2020 qualification. Only one outfield player, Ryan Babel, is over 30 years old and the leading players like Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and Donny van de Beek have barely turned 20.
The new generation receives excellent support from the more experienced group of players in their peak-age. Head coach Ronald Koeman has been fearless in promoting suitable players to the national team and the likes of Marten de Roon, Joêl Veltman David Pröpper and Quincy Promes have stepped up when needed. With excellent “veterans”, such as van Dijk, Georginio Wijnaldum, Babel and Blind it is easier for the new generation to handle the pressures of international football.
While the Euro 2020 tournament is more than a half-year ahead, Netherlands is deemed one of the biggest favorites – and not without a reason. Their performance in the qualifiers has been top-notch and the young stars are only getting better, while their veterans are in their prime. It is high time for the Dutch to be back in business.