Sports The Netherlands return, will face Ukraine at Euro 2020
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AMSTERDAM (AP) — Seven years is a long, long wait.
It's been that many years since the Netherlands last played at a major soccer tournament, dating back to the orange-clad team's run to the World Cup semifinals in 2014. On Sunday in Amsterdam,will finally be back on the field to take on at the European Championship.
“We know that we missed two final tournaments, but now we’re finally here and so we want to show what we can do, not just for fun but really for the prizes,” said Memphis Depay, the striker who is the undisputed focal point of the Dutch attack at Euro 2020.
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The jersey of the Ukraine team worn at Euro 2020 also includes Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014. Moscow Protest. © AFP The Jersey of the Ukrainian National Football Team (presented by the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky) caused Moscow's anger after his football association unveiled UEFA EURO 2020 kits that show the contours of Ukraine, including Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.
The team's captain and defensive anchor, Virgil van Dijk, will have to wait even longer. He pulled out of the tournament to rehabilitate hisknee.
The defense was further weakened by a groin injury to 21-year-old center back Matthijs de Ligt. Netherlands coach Frank de Boer said Saturday that De Ligt will not be able to play against Ukraine.
“It is a bit too early," De Boer said. "We don’t want to take any risks. We have two more group matches.”
De Boer did not say who would replace the Juventus defender in the starting lineup.
De Ligt is one of the Netherlands players that reached the Champions League semifinals in 2019 with Ajax and then moved to a major club, like so many talented youngsters produced by the Dutch club's youth academy.
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Frenkie de Jong was also in that Ajax team and subsequently moved to Barcelona, where he developed into one of the best players during a tough season under former Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman. Barcelona ended up finishing third in the Spanish league.
De Jong, the Netherlands', said he's feeling fresh despite the long club season.
“If a lot of people say to you, ‘You’ve played a lot, you must be tired,' it can get into your head," de Jong said. “But for me it's not an issue.”
De Jong's role in the midfield will depend on the formation De Boer chooses. The coach said Saturday the team would start in a 3-5-2 setup — he counts two wing backs operating on the flanks as midfielders — instead of the traditional 4-3-3.
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De Boer insists that it's an attacking formation with the wing backs playing high up the field, but not everyone is convinced.
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The Netherlands are successfully launched in the em. In a rousing game on Sunday evening, the Elftal went through a change of emotions, named a 3: 2 against Ukraine at the end. A victory where Wolfsburger Weghorst had a big share. © Getty Images Sagittarius of the Second hit: Wout Weghorst (center) builds his goal to 2: 0 against Ukraine.
A light plane flew over the team's training ground Saturday pulling a banner that read in Dutch: “Frank. Just 4-3-3!”
“That's not something you see every day,” Netherlands captain Georginio Wijnaldum said.
De Boer joked that he's also hired a plane to pull a banner reading: “Thanks for the tip, but it remains 3-5-2.”
The Netherlands' only international title came at the 1988 European Championship. The Dutch have also reached three World Cup finals and lost them all.
About 16,000 fans will be allowed to watch Sunday's Group C match at the Johan Cruyff Arena. With coronavirus travel restrictions expected to keep most Ukrainian fans from traveling to the Netherlands, the vast majority will be Dutch.
Only a handful of players remain in Dutch team from the last major tournament, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Among them are Depay, Wijnaldum, defender Daley Blind and goalkeeper Tim Krul. Another keeper, Jasper Cillessen — replaced by Krul in the 2014 quarterfinal penalty shootout win over Costa Rica — will miss this tournament after testing positive for COVID-19.
Depay was an emerging talent in Brazil. Now he's one of the veterans of the team with 23 goals in 62 appearances.
“I have a feeling of responsibility that I have to carry the team, but I’ve always had this,” Depay said.
Ukraine qualified for the last two European Championships, but has never progressed past the group stage. The country's main player is Oleksandr Zinchenko, who plays at left back for Manchester City but is expected to switch to a central midfield role for his country.
The Ukrainians are coached by Andriy Shevchenko, whose mentality doesn't seem to have changed much from his playing days with the national team and clubs including AC Milan and Chelsea.
“He always wants to win," Ukraine midfielder Taras Stepanenko said. “Always, all matches, no matter what teams, he always wants to win.”
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Mike Corder, The Associated Press
Rest or rhythm: Netherlands coach ponders Euro 2020 options .
AMSTERDAM (AP) — Netherlands coach Frank de Boer has a difficult decision to make for his team's final Group C match at the European Championship. “Do we want to keep the players in the rhythm and further refine the system, or should we rest some of the boys?” De Boer said. The answer is a bit of both. De Boer said Sunday he would make two changes to the team that beat Austria 2-0. National broadcaster NOS reported that a video made at the Dutch training ground appeared to show a note with a lineup that has Donyell Malen replacing Wout Weghorst in the forward line and 19-year-old Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravenberch replacing Marten de Roon, who has a yellow card.