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Dark Horses Netherlands Pin Euro 2024 Hopes On De Jong Despite Injury

Written by on June 7, 2024

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Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman is gambling on the fitness of Frenkie de Jong, hoping the Barcelona playmaker can inspire a talented side to emulate the European Championship heroes of 1988.

While not among the top favourites in Germany, the Oranje could yet prove to be dark horses for the tournament, with an experienced defence and a midfield packed with talent from Europe’s top clubs.

Central to Koeman’s plans is De Jong, who has battled ankle injuries this season at Barcelona but hopes to be fit for his team’s Group D opener against Poland on June 16.

Koeman included the 27-year-old in his squad despite not recovering from his third ankle injury of the season, saying he was prepared to make an exception for his star player.

“We have a trajectory in mind, but it will depend on how the ankle holds up whether I will be fit in time,” said De Jong, adding: “There are no hard deadlines.”

Koeman will want his talisman fit from the off as the Oranje face a tough group, with joint-favourites France and Austria to come after the opening clash with Poland.

Joining De Jong in midfield will be Jerdy Schouten, who has impressed during PSV Eindhoven’s all-conquering season in the Dutch top flight and run to the Champions League knock-out stages.

The Dutch can count on a formidable defence, with Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk joining up with Nathan Ake, fresh from Premier League glory with Manchester City.

Veteran defender Daley Blind and Bayern Munich’s Matthijs de Ligt are also in the mix, with competition for squad places so tough there was no place for Ian Maatsen, who helped Borussia Dortmund to the Champions League final.

Up front, Koeman is likely to play former Manchester United striker Wout Weghorst as a target man, with Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo providing valuable support.

Borussia Dortmund’s Donyell Malen should come into the tournament brimming with confidence and Steven Bergwijn could play a role despite suffering a horror season with Ajax.

The Oranje qualified second in their group behind France, and Koeman will be hoping to overturn two defeats to Les Bleus (4-0 and 2-1) when they meet on June 21 in Leipzig.

The Netherlands warmed up by thumping Scotland 4-0 in March but a 2-1 friendly loss four days later to Germany raised questions about their ability to compete with the continent’s best sides.

What is sure is that the team will be roared on by an army of orange-clad fans hoping to erase painful memories of the team’s last tournament outing, a brutal 2022 World Cup quarter-final with Argentina.

In what became known as the Battle of Lusail, the referee brandished a record 16 yellow cards, with Dutch wing-back Denzel Dumfries also seeing red for a second bookable offence.

The Oranje snatched a last-minute equaliser only to lose on penalties, the end of the match marred by ugly clashes including between Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Dutch coach Louis van Gaal.

Recent history in the Euros has not been kind to the Netherlands either.

They suffered a shock loss to the Czech Republic in the last 16 in Euro 2020, failed to qualify in 2016 and crashed out at the group stage in 2012.

Koeman played a key role in the Oranje’s finest hour, the 2-0 defeat of the Soviet Union in the Euro 1988 final, alongside stars like Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit.

Gullit, who captained that side, had some choice words to say about de Jong, telling Ziggo Sport: “If you look at Frenkie de Jong during the last World Cup, he was like a ghost!

“He needs to take matters into his own hands.”

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