A new era for the Netherlands under the tutelage of Louis van Gaal begins on Wednesday night, when they travel to Norway for the fourth match of their World Cup Qualifying campaign in Group G.
The two nations, who both have six points from their opening three group games, will meet for the 21st time and for the first time since 2009, when the Dutch won 2-0 in Rotterdam.
The Netherlands return to international action this week for the first time since they were eliminated in the last 16 of Euro 2020.
Despite a 100% record during the group stage, a disappointing 2-0 defeat to the Czech Republic – a game in which they had no shots on target – ended their journey in Budapest.
Just 48 hours after the match, Frank de Boer stepped down from his role as head coach, after just nine months in charge, with Louis van Gaal announced as his replacement at the beginning of August.
The 70-year-old has decided to come out of retirement to take charge of the Dutch national team for the third time in his managerial career.
Van Gaal has had mixed success with the Oranje, having failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup during his first stint in charge, before finishing third in 2014 during his second spell. The former Manchester United manager is now tasked with guiding the Netherlands to their first World Cup since 2014, after they missed out on the 2018 competition in Russia.
The Netherlands currently sit second in Group G with six points from their first three games. A surprise 4-2 loss to Turkey in their opening group match was followed by two comfortable victories against European minnows Latvia and Gibraltar by an aggregate score of 9-0.
Van Gaal’s men are one point behind the Turks at the summit and level on points with Wednesday’s opponents Norway, who they have beaten in each of their last four matches without conceding a goal.
Victory for the Dutch in Oslo would see them climb to the top of their group if Turkey were to drop points at home to Montenegro, who the Oranje will face next on Saturday.
Unlike the Netherlands, Norway failed to qualify for Euro 2020 and have not competed at a major tournament since Euro 2000, the same year a certain Erling Braut Haaland was born.
The 21-year-old’s emergence as one of the world’s most in-demand strikers has provided optimism for Norwegian supporters, who are hoping their talisman can finally guide them to their first World Cup tournament this century.
As well as scoring seven goals in 12 international appearances, Haaland has found the net 112 times in 158 club appearances since making his debut as a 15-year-old for local club Bryne. Surprisingly though, the Borussia Dortmund striker is yet to score in three qualification matches so far and has found the net just once in his last six international matches.
A comfortable 3-0 win against Gibraltar in Norway’s first match was followed by a disappointing loss to Turkey by the same scoreline, before Stale Solbakken’s men bounced back with a narrow 1-0 away victory against Montenegro.
Both victories for the Lions came against sides currently outside FIFA’s top 50; their last win against any nation in the top 20 was back in September 2015 when they beat Croatia.
Norway are set to face a challenging encounter against the Netherlands – ranked 12th in the world – on Wednesday and will need their star striker firing if they are to cause an upset on home soil.
Norway World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Norway form (all competitions):
Netherlands World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Netherlands form (all competitions):
We say: Norway 1-3 Netherlands
An intriguing battle between Haaland and Van Dijk is set to take place on Wednesday, though the Dutch defender will be supported in the back three by De Ligt and De Vrij, who between them could make it a frustrating evening for the Borussia Dortmund striker.
The Oranje head into this encounter as the favourites and we feel that they have enough quality throughout their squad to claim all three points in Oslo.