The cause? "A virus", according to the Dutch federation. But according to players, a chicken curry served Wednesday at dinner would have poisoned five of them, and not least: Liverpool striker Cody Gakpo, defenders Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich) and Sven Botman (Newcastle United), goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen (Anderlecht), as well as Joey Veerman (PSV Eindhoven).

The latter had just been called up to replace Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong suffering from thigh pain.

On Wednesday night, the infected players were seized with stomach cramps and Thursday they were still suffering from violent vomiting, according to the team's medical staff.

It is therefore a very diminished formation that will present itself at the Stade de France to challenge the Blues in a group also including Ireland, Greece and Gibraltar, and which will qualify the two best teams for the tournament in Germany.

Because in addition to these six renunciations, Koeman had already had to deplore the last-minute withdrawal of Steven Bergwijn, the winger of Ajax injured a knee.

The Batavian coach will therefore have to review almost half of the "eleven" he had in mind, also taking into account the suspension of Denzel Dumfries. Sacred tile especially since it "does not exclude that other cases are declared by Friday night".

- "Back to two attackers? Not an option" -

During the week, the former coach of Barça or Ajax had tackled a set up disavowing the 5-3-2 of his predecessor Louis van Gaal to return to a more traditional 4-3-3.

Dutch players training at the Stade de France on March 23, 2023 on the eve of facing France © team FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Koeman, who has recalled Ryan Gravenberch (Bayern), Kjell Scherpen (Vitesse Arnhem) and Stefan de Vrij (Inter), will not give up his intentions to leave.

"The players (who will replace the absentees) have trained during the week in a pattern that they now know and that will not change," he said Thursday at a press conference.

"Going back to a two-striker system is not an option," insisted Koeman, who should line up Memphis Depay and Steven Berghuis in support of Wout Weghorst in his attacking trio.

Defensively, he is wary "obviously of Kylian Mbappé who can change the face of a match alone".

His captain, Virgil van Dijk agrees: "Against the France who have the attacking players to punish us at all times, the important thing will be first to defend well."

"With that in mind, Frenkie (de Jong) and Matthijs (de Ligt) will be missed. But the other players selected have enough qualities to replace them. I have confidence," added the Liverpool centre-back who has "digested his chicken well and feels good".

"It's very painful to see boys suffering," Koeman admitted. I was shocked when the doctor told me the bad news on Thursday at 7:00 a.m. The players spared were surprised. But as I told them at breakfast +Dit is het+ (That's how it is), we can't change anything."

© 2023 AFP