EURO 2024 QUALIFYING GROUP B
Republic of Ireland v Netherlands, Aviva Stadium, Sunday, 7.45pm
Live coverage on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player from 7pm.
Live commentary on RTÉ 2fm‘s Game On from 7.30pm
Live blog on RTÉ.ie/Sport and the RTÉ News app
Humid with some warm sunny spells but a good deal of cloud in general with some coastal fog in parts. Scattered slow-moving heavy showers and thunderstorms will bring a risk of localised spot flooding and lightning strikes. Highest temperatures of 20 to 24 degrees in light variable winds.
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IRELAND ENTER MUST-WIN TERRITORY
The September window always looked like the toughest the Republic of Ireland would face once the Euro 2024 qualifying fixtures were confirmed last year.
France and the Netherlands back-to-back would be a tall order for any team and ideally, Stephen Kenny’s side would have hoped to accrue as many points as possible in June when Greece (away) and Gibraltar (home) were the opposition.
Unfortunately, a dismal 2-1 defeat in Athens immediately put Ireland on the back foot with just three points from a possible nine.
That increased the pressure to earn a landmark win against one of the top 10 teams. That was not forthcoming as France eased to a 2-0 win in Paris on Thursday, leaving the Boys in Green needing to cause an upset against the visiting Dutch at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday night.
As things stand in Group B, Ireland are fourth, three points behind the Netherlands and Greece, having played a game more than the Oranje.
If Ronald Koeman’s side were to win at the Aviva then the campaign would definitely be all but over.
However, victory would put Ireland back in the mix with an outside chance of a top two finish, albeit with the Netherlands and Greece – the latter who will be heavy favourites when they play minnows Gibraltar in Athens at the same time – still holding the cards with a game in hand and points advantage simulatenously.
Alan Browne, who started at right wing-back against the French, says the squad’s focus has been squarely on the Dutch.
“That was always going to be the main game coming into this camp and we have to take whatever positives we can from this and we need to shift focus quickly,” he said.
FAR FROM VINTAGE DUTCH REDISCOVER FORM
Unfortunately for Ireland, the Netherlands come to Dublin with their confidence restored somewhat.
It had been a difficult year, which started with a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of France in Paris at the start of the qualifying campaign.
The 2022 World Cup quarter-finalists did get their first points with an expected victory over Gibraltar but then June saw them lose on home soil to Croatia and Italy respectively in the UEFA Nations League finals.
During that time, manager Koeman, back for his second spell in charge – the first ending when he left to take over at the club he graced as a player, Barcelona – had tried to set the Netherlands up in the 4-3-3 formation that the nation had imbued in a devout way for more than 50 years.
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) September 8, 2023
However, against Greece on Thursday, they reverted to a 3-4-2-1, and subsequently put in their best performance in the qualifying group, securing a 3-0 win in Eindhoven.
“It was a major step up,” Dutch football journalist Bart Vlietstra told the RTÉ Soccer Podcast on Friday.
“Koeman changed the system and went from 4-3-3, which is our national treasure in Holland because it was (advocated) by Johann Cruyff (and) everybody has to play 4-3-3, but Koeman changed the system to 3-5-2 or 5-3-2.
“That was also used by Louis van Gaal at the World Cup. We didn’t really play good (football) there but we managed to make it to penalties against the world champions Argentina so it wasn’t too bad.
“(Koeman) said afterwards, that he took a big risk in doing that because if the result wasn’t good (against Greece), his head would be on the chopping block.”
As it happens though, the Netherlands scored three first-half goals and according to Vlietstra are likely to stick to the same set-up and team at the Aviva Stadium, with Brentford goalkeeper Mark Flekken in goal, captain Virgil van Dijk anchoring the back three, Denzel Dumfries offering a threat from right wing-back and Xavi Simons and Cody Gakpo supporting the target man, who was former Manchester United loanee Wout Weghorst.
Manchester City’s left-sided defender Nathan Ake was the main doubt due to injury but he has been passed fit.
The Dutch have more star quality in defensive areas than further up the field which is a far cry from the heydays of their plentiful golden generations of old.
But Barcelona’s deep-lying playmaker Frenkie De Jong remains the conduit and is the player Vlietstra recommends that Ireland should focus on most.
“You have to stop Frenkie and then you can stop Holland I think,” he said.
MCATEER CONTINUES TO HAUNT THE DUTCH
Ireland have met the Netherlands 22 times to date, winning seven times and losing 11. A good chunk of those meetings came during the Boys in Green’s first forays into major tournaments, with a 1-0 defeat at Euro 88, a 1-1 draw at Italia 90 and then a 2-0 loss in the last-16 at USA 94.
The next meeting was a play-off for Euro 96 when Patrick Kluivert broke Irish hearts with a brace and effectively ended the Jack Charlton era.
But five years later, it was Ireland’s turn to deny the Dutch a place at a major tournament, as Jason McAteer’s iconic winner at Lansdowne Road in September 2001 played no small part in helping Ireland qualify for the 2002 World Cup at the Oranje’s expense.
“Well, if you say McAteer in Holland, everybody gets the shivers,” Vlietstra said.
“We will never forget that was an astonishing game at Lansdowne Road.”
There have been three friendly meetings since, with the last of those ending in a 1-1 draw at the Aviva Stadium in 2016 as part of Ireland’s preparations for Euro 2016, a tournament the Dutch missed during a relatively barren period for their national side.
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