Preview: France vs. Netherlands
Three months on from losing the 2022 World Cup final, France welcome the Netherlands to the Stade de France for their opening Euro 2024 qualifier on Friday.
The two European giants will be vying for top spot in Group B, and are joined by Greece, Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar.
France entered the 2022 World Cup final in Qatar seeking to become just the third nation in history, after Italy and Brazil, to win back-to-back titles following their triumph in Russia four years earlier.
Golden Boot winner Kylian Mbappe may have scored a superb hat-trick – just the second in World Cup final history – to help rescue a 3-3 draw in an enthralling 120 minutes, but Les Bleus ultimately came up short on penalties, with Argentina winning 4-2 to become champions for the first time in 36 years.
Despite their World Cup final heartache, manager Didier Deschamps has extended his contract until 2026 and is tasked with rebuilding a French squad mixed with fresh faces and familiar stars that can continue to compete on all fronts.
France, ranked third in the world by FIFA behind Brazil and Argentina, have not won the European Championships since 2000, but they do boast a strong record in qualifying as they have only lost one of their last 19 such matches, with a 2-0 away defeat against Turkey in June 2019 the only blot on their copybook during this run.
However, Les Bleus suffered two home defeats in three competitive matches last year, losing to both Denmark and Croatia in June during an underwhelming Nations League campaign in which they finished third and narrowly avoided relegation from League A.
Keen to bounce back from their recent setbacks, Deschamps and co will fancy their chances of progressing from their Euro 2024 qualification group, and while securing top spot over the Netherlands is not a given, a run of five wins in their last six meetings with the Oranje bodes well ahead of Friday’s contest.
Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands squad were regarded as dark horses by many heading into the 2022 World Cup, but they suffered the same fate as France, albeit earlier in the tournament, as they were beaten by eventual winners Argentina in the quarter-finals.
A dramatic late brace from Wout Weghorst saw the Oranje come from two goals down to rescue a 2-2 draw in 90 minutes, and the fiery contest was eventually decided on penalties, with Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis missing from 12 yards in a 4-3 shootout defeat.
Van Gaal’s third spell in charge has now come to an end, with Ronald Koeman taking the reins for a second time after a two-year stint between 2018 and 2020, in which he won 11 of his 20 games in the dugout.
Koeman, a 78-cap international in his playing days, has vowed to implement an ‘attractive and attacking’ brand of football as Netherlands boss following criticism from some segments of the Dutch media for the defensive philosophy under his predecessor, and he will be hoping to resurrect his own managerial career after a disastrous 14-month stint in charge of Barcelona which ended in October 2021.
The Oranje – who had put together an impressive 19-game unbeaten run in all competitions prior to their defeat on penalties to Argentina – enter this month’s international break after experiencing a mixed run of form in European Championship qualifiers, winning 10, drawing two and losing seven of their last 19 matches over a 12-year period.
However, Koeman won six of his eight Euros qualifiers during his first spell in charge, and the 60-year-old guided the Dutch to victory the last time that they faced off against Friday’s opponents France, with goals from Georginio Wijnaldum and Quincy Promes securing a 2-0 home win in the 2018-19 Nations League.
France form (all competitions):
Netherlands form (all competitions):
We say: France 2-1 Netherlands
An intriguing encounter between two top European nations is set to take place in Paris, with both sides keen to make a statement with an opening Euro 2024 qualification victory in their quest to top Group B.
Koeman will hope his adjustments can make the Dutch a more attacking outfit, but we believe that the French, led by goal machine Mbappe, will do enough to outscore their opponents and claim a slender victory.