Preview: Belgium Under-21s vs. Netherlands Under-21s 

Preview: Belgium Under-21s vs. Netherlands Under-21s 

Two-time champions Netherlands Under-21s begin their quest for another continental crown when they meet Belgium Under-21s in Wednesday’s Under-21 Euro 2023 Group A opener at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium in Tbilisi.

While the Dutch starlets have titles to their name from the 2006 and 2007 editions, Belgium are still pining for their first appearance in the final.

As Belgium’s trophy-less ‘golden generation’ enter the twilight of their careers, the onus is on the Young Devils to follow in their elders’ footsteps and try to break new ground for their nation, but they have done little to suggest that will be the case so far.

Since reaching the semi-finals of the 2007 Under-21 Euros in what was only their second appearance at the finals, Belgium have only qualified for two of the last eight Championships – including the 2023 edition – and they exited the 2019 tournament in the group stage without a single point to their name.

Jacky Mathijssen was at the helm when Belgium failed to make it to the 2021 tournament, but the 59-year-old oversaw an unbeaten run to Romania and Georgia this time around with six wins and two draws from qualifying, topping a section also comprising Denmark, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Scotland.

A mixed bag of friendly results would follow for the Young Devils, but their two most recent exhibition fixtures against Japan and Israel both ended in victory – with five goals in tow – and a deep run at the Under-21 Euros may give the Belgium faithful some renewed hope for the future after several failed ventures at the top level.

While Belgium were content with a top-four finish 16 years ago, the Netherlands made it back-to-back Euros titles in 2007 after also asserting their continental dominance one year prior, but replicating such feats has proven a tall order for Jong Oranje.

Throughout the last seven editions of the competition since 2009, the Netherlands have either exited in the semi-finals – as was the case in 2013 and 2021 – or failed to make the finals entirely, but few teams managed to breach Erwin van de Looi’s well-drilled defence in qualification this time around.

Also going through their group unbeaten – leaving Switzerland, Moldova, Wales, Bulgaria and Gibraltar in their wake – the Dutch remarkably conceded just three goals in their 10 games, the joint-lowest in the six-team sections alongside three-time winners Portugal.

Jong Oranje’s rearguard solidity was also evident in their recent batch of friendlies, keeping another three clean sheets in five games to extend their unbeaten run in all tournaments to 15 matches since losing to Germany in the Euro 2021 semis, but their last two with the Czech Republic and Japan both ended level.

Despite their differing set of results at the Under-21 Euros, Belgium and the Netherlands have otherwise been very evenly-matched – with both sides winning three and losing three against one another alongside three draws – but Jong Oranje ran out 2-1 victors in a September friendly.

Belgium Under-21s form (all competitions):

Netherlands Under-21s form (all competitions):

We say: Belgium Under-21s 1-2 Netherlands Under-21s
As admirable as the Netherlands’ defensive streak is, the Oranje backline have not had their mettle tested by a striker in as red-hot form as Openda, but even his powers may wane after such a taxing domestic campaign.

Belgium should give fellow Group A competitors Georgia and Portugal a good run for their money once their other senior players arrive, but we can only see the Netherlands coming up trumps in this opening affair.

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