After six years, the Dutch team is finally going to a big tournament again. A 0-0 draw on Saturday against Northern Ireland was sufficient in the qualification. These are the most important moments that the Dutch will deliver a ticket for the European Championship 2020.
March 22, 2018: Orange has another leader
Kevin Strootman is mentioned. Just like Daley Blind and Georginio Wijnaldum. No, in the early spring of 2018 it is not a foregone conclusion who will succeed Arjen Robben as captain of Orange, until Virgil van Dijk enters the press room of the Johan Cruijff ArenA a day before the practice match against England. "I think it's great news, it's an honor to be the captain of your country," says the then 26-year-old Liverpool defender.
Van Dijk has only sixteen international matches to his name at that time and played three months earlier for Premier League mid-engine Southampton. But the choice of Ronald Koeman for the inexperienced Brabant (certainly compared to predecessors Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder) is fantastic. With the band around his arm, Van Dijk grows to be the absolute leader of Orange and - if we take the Men's Player of the Year Award from UEFA as the benchmark - the best player in Europe.
Virgil van Dijk during his first press conference as captain of Orange. (Photo: Pro Shots)
March 26, 2018: Memphis turns out to be a striker
It sounds longer than it is, but in March last year Bas Dost seems to be the undisputed striker of the Orange. Van Persie is too old, Vincent Janssen in decline and Luuk de Jong has the stamp that he is only accurate in the Premier League. Meanwhile, Dost scores almost weekly at the Portuguese Sporting CP and so he gets the chance against England, the first international match of Koeman as national coach.
It takes 66 minutes and then Koeman has seen enough. He brings Dost, who is hardly involved in the game, to the side and keeps him on the bench three days later against Portugal for ninety minutes. Memphis Depay is the next one to try it as a striker and he succeeds. Portugal is beaten 0-3 in Geneva, partly due to a goal from Memphis, the wing-striker that suddenly turns out to be the ideal center-striker for the Dutch team under Koeman. Memphis drags, shoots, makes room and above all is deadly effective. He is involved in 21 of the 38 goals scored so far under Koeman with ten goals and eleven assists.
Memphis Depay celebrates its goal against Portugal. (Photo: Pro Shots)
September 6, 2018: Changing of the guard in midfield
One plays his first international match, the other his 134th. The exhibition match in the ArenA against Peru (2-1) therefore enters the books as the farewell match of Sneijder at Orange, but also as that of the debut of Frenkie de Jong and thus the changing of the guard in midfield.
Although they are different types (for example, the two-legged Sneijder scores much more), the thirteen-year-old younger De Jong does leave his mark right away, as Sneijder did in his best years. With 'runner' Wijnaldum and (a month later) 'balafpakker' Marten de Roon on the side of De Jong, the 'midfield puzzle' by Koeman is ready for qualification.
Wesley Sneijder and Frenkie de Jong played seventeen minutes together in Orange. (Photo: Pro Shots)
October 13, 2018: After four years finally a win again on a top country
Van De Kuip is known to literally go up and down with an explosion of joy, but now it is actually the concrete of the Johan Cruijff ArenA that moves. And all that after a victory from Orange, whose public has a carnival image and for whom the social atmosphere is perhaps just as important as football.
The mad joy in the stands says a lot about the depth of the crisis of the Dutch national team in recent years. The victory over Germany in the Nations League is even the first victory of the Dutch in a competitive game with a big football country since the 3-0 victory over Brazil in the consolation final of the 2014 World Cup. Goals van Van Dijk, Memphis and Wijnaldum are doing it trust back. The Orange counts again, as appears again a month later when France's world champion in De Kuip is beaten 2-0.
Memphis Depay celebrates its goal against Germany with the Orange crowd. (Photo: Pro Shots)
September 6, 2019: The golden double change from Koeman
The European Championship is just as far away. The Netherlands has already lost to Germany in the qualifying at home when it faces a 1-0 deficit in Hamburg in the second half. Orange hardly creates any opportunities. Again the Germans seem to be winning, until in the 58th minute Koeman changes Denzel Dumfries and De Roon for the much more attacking couple Davy Pröpper and Donyell Malen. The game is tilting. In a spectacular half-hour, the 1-0 deficit is turned into a 2-4 win, partly due to a goal by rookie Malen.
Joy at Donyell Malen after his successful debut against Germany. (Photo: Pro Shots)
September 9, 2019: The resurrection of Babel
The career of Ryan Babel seems well over when he is photographed in the United Arab Emirates with a sheik and the purple shirt of Al Ain at the age of 26. The sandbox as the last stop of a messy career past clubs such as Liverpool, Ajax and Hoffenheim and Kasimpasa.
Yet Babel comes to the surface again. Dick Advocaat brings him back to the Orange squad after more than six years in 2017, after which the now almost 33-year-old club hopper (Babel wears four clubs after Al Ain) grows into a 'certainty' in qualifying under Koeman. The attacker often covers an entire side in the national coach system, is reliable and scores, with the away match against Estonia as the high point. For the first time in his bizarre long international career, which started in 2005 with teammates such as Edwin van de Sar and Phillip Cocu, Babel is twice certain in a game of the Orange, which wins 0-4 in Tallinn.
Ryan Babel's 0-2 against Estonia. (Photo: Pro Shots)
October 10, 2019: Luuk de Jong does in Orange
He has already failed at Borussia Mönchengladbach and Newcastle United when the Spanish press is nearly writing off Luuk de Jong. And that is not surprising for the striker who after eight rounds in La Liga has not yet scored for his new club Sevilla. There are also doubts in the Netherlands. Why not Wout Weghorst in the selection as 'pinchhitter' against Northern Ireland?
But when the Orange squad fifteen minutes before time in De Kuip 0-1 against the Northern Irish, Koeman really sent De Jong out of the dug-out. The Netherlands must hope for a goal from a player who has not scored for months. And that also happens.
The score is 1-1 (Memphis makes it equal in the 80th minute) and the extra time is already running when a cross passes through a Northern Irish head just like De Jong. He knows how to keep the ball inside and with a next move he taps the liberating 2-1. The Orange is going to win and De Jong has his confidence back. A week later he finally makes his first goal for Seville.
Luuk de Jong taps in the 2-1 against Northern Ireland. (Photo: Pro Shots)