Netherlands vs Scotland
Never mind a thermometer in the Algarve in June; this should act as a barometer ahead of the summer spectacle which awaits us.
Holland v Scotland in Portugal may seem an odd location but, there again, if it provides some warm weather training and a useful warm-up for both nations, I would imagine neither coach will complain too much.
It’s certainly all starting to get real for both with coaches Frank De Boer and Steve Clarke utilising this international friendly as a guide to what follows throughout June and, if they do really well, into July.
De Boer has much to prove in management and this summer provides an ideal platform, not least because all his country’s group matches are being played at home in the Jordi Cruyff Arena.
History tells us it is not rare for the Dutch to prepare for a major tournament without an element of controversy and, sure enough, 2021 is no different.
Indeed, De Boer has attempted to put days of critical media coverage behind him with an appeal for a focus on football.
First, the squad was embroiled in a debate over Covid-19 vaccinations, which up to six players refused to have, while De Boer was then criticised for getting his facts wrong at his team announcement and saying he had personally broken the bad news to players culled from the preliminary squad when it turned out he had not called all of them.
In fact, it even emerged Anwar El Ghazi of Aston Villa received his bad news by text message.
Still, with a mix of youth and experience at his disposal, including players of the calibre of Daley Blind, Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay and Luuk de Jong, Holland have no shortage of talent – although they are not realistic Euro 2020 winners.
After missing out on both the last World Cup and Euro 2016 – their last major tournament was the 2014 World Cup when Louis van Gaal guided them to third place – the Dutch have much to prove and a warm-up win against the Scots should lift spirits ahead of their tournament opener against Ukraine on June 13.
In their defence, Oranje did reach the final of the inaugural Nations League two years ago.
If you thought Holland had it bad, spare a thought for Scotland who are due to open their European Championship campaign against the Czech Republic at Hampden Park on June 14.
This is the first appearance at a major tournament since 1998 and they had to do it the hard way, including a series of close-fought contests with Israel before they eventually made it in dramatic fashion!
This will be the first chance for Clarke and fans to see some of their emerging talent with Billy Gilmour, Nathan Patterson and David Turnbull all promoted from the under 21 squad.
It’s also an opportunity for the boss to mix it up and try out some players who have not been given an outing in the run to the Euros or the World Cup qualifiers.
Since taking charge of Scotland two years ago, Clarke has a mixed record with eight wins in 19 matches – two of which came against their Euro 2020 Group D opponents, Czech Republic.
However, due to them being in League B for the Nations League, as well as receiving a favourable World Cup qualifying group, Scotland have not faced many opponents of the calibre of Holland during his tenure.
Only the games against Belgium back in late 2019 would qualify, both of which resulted in heavy defeats.
That is why we will know far more about Scotland and their summer hopes after events in Portugal on Wednesday night.
These two nations have only met twice in official tournaments and have one win apiece.
The game I immediately think of when these two are paired together is the 1978 World Cup when fans of a certain age will remember a superb Archie Gemmill goal which proved to be the winner in a famous 3-2 Scotland success.
However, that did not save Ally MacLeod’s Scots from an early elimination, while Holland went onto reach a second successive final where they were beaten by Mario Kempes-inspired Argentina.
They met again in the group stages of Euro 92 when Dennis Bergkamp netted the only goal 15 minutes from time to settle the holders, managed by the great Rinus Michels, in their tournament opener.
Holland have won nine of their clashes over nearly a century with six Scotland successes and four draws.
Holland have also won the last four, most recently a 2017 friendly in Aberdeen when Depay scored the only goal.
The Dutch also completed a double success over Scotland in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup where they went onto reaching the final.
They won 1-0 in Scotland courtesy of a Eljero Elia goal, six months after Klaus Jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt netted in a 3-0 win in Amsterdam.
The most recent Scotland victory came in 2003 when James McFadden scored the only goal in a qualifying play-off for Euro 2004.
Sadly, for the Scots, a Ruud van Nistelrooy-led Holland hit six without reply in the second leg to send the Scots packing.
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