Beaten 2022 World Cup finalists France take a trip to Amsterdam to meet the bitter continental rivals Netherlands on Friday.
A mouth-watering 2024 European Championship qualifier at the Johan Cruyjff Arena could determine the home side’s fate.
Since an embarrassing 4-0 loss in Paris in their Group B opener, Ronald Koeman’s side have hit a purple patch, racking up a three-game winning streak to seize a coveted runner-up spot.
However, there’s no margin for error as they start this round level on points with third-placed Greece, meaning their hopes of qualifying for a second straight European Championship are still in the balance.
With a game in hand, the Netherlands are still masters of their destiny, and after getting back on track following June’s underwhelming Nations League results, they ought to be confident.
After losing the Nations League third-place play-off to Italy, Koeman’s side have won back-to-back Euro 2024 qualifiers, including a 2-1 comeback triumph against the Republic of Ireland last time out.
Unlike the Netherlands, France won’t be bothered by the outcome of this encounter after a five-game winning start to their qualifying campaign put them on the cusp of reaching next summer’s tournament.
Not only have Didier Deschamps’ team won all five Group B fixtures, but they did so without conceding a single goal, a feat only matched by Portugal in the ongoing qualifying cycle.
But Les Bleus showed signs of weakness in their last international, losing 2-1 to out-of-form Germany in a friendly to relinquish a 100% winning post-World Cup record.
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Despite overcoming Greece and Gibraltar by an identical 3-0 scoreline across their opening two Group B outings on home turf, the Netherlands have struggled in their recent home games against more prominent rivals.
They are winless in their last three home Euro qualifying matches against the nations currently ranked inside FIFA’s top 50 (D1, L2), casting some doubt on their bid to avenge a fiasco in the reverse fixture.
Against this backdrop, the Oranje have traditionally flourished against France on home soil, mustering an impressive 77% unbeaten ratio in the meetings they’ve hosted (W8, D2, L3).
Maintaining that record would bring the Netherlands a step closer to reaching a third consecutive major tournament after missing out on Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.
As for France, a ninth successive Euro qualification looks like a done deal, though another victory against the Dutch would clear all doubts, if any, while even a point in a certain scenario would suffice.
Les Bleus have excelled in their recent away Euro qualifiers, winning the last five on the spin without conceding, so Deschamp would be forgiven for gunning for all three points.
However, they would be wise to approach this showdown with cautious optimism after going winless across their last six away Euro qualifiers against nations currently ranked in FIFA’s top 50 (D4, L2).
Antoine Griezmann could help his side gain a foothold in the game early on, given he has scored within the first 15 minutes in three of his last six appearances against the Netherlands.
Koeman faces a selection nightmare ahead of the Netherlands’ pivotal clash, with several first-team stars struggling with injuries.
Cody Gakpo, Jurrien Timber, Sven Botman, Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay, Teun Koopmeiners and Tyrell Malacia are not in contention for this fixture.
Wesley Fofana, Christopher Nkunku, Presnel Kimpembe, William Saliba, Dayot Upamecano, Jules Kounde, Raphael Varane and Axel Disasi are among the most notable absentees in the visiting camp.
But France boss Deschamp can still count on Paris Saint-Germain duo Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele to play the supporting cast to AC Milan striker Olivier Giroud up top.
Netherlands potential starting line-up:
(3-4-3): Bart Verbruggen; Stefan de Vrij, Virgil van Dijk, Nathan Ake; Denzel Dumfries, Marten de Roon, Tijjani Reijnders, Daley Blind; Xavi Simons, Wout Weghorst, Donyell Malen.
France potential starting line-up:
(4-2-3-1): Mike Maignan; Benjamin Pavard, Ibrahima Konate, Lucas Hernandez, Theo Hernandez; Aurelien Tchouameni, Adrien Rabiot; Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe; Olivier Giroud.
We Say: Netherlands 1-2 France
Without a host of defenders, there’s a good chance that France’s water-tight backline could capitulate for the first time in the ongoing qualifying campaign.
However, Les Bleus’ mighty frontline should ultimately make the difference in Amsterdam and seal the visitors’ qualification with two games to spare.
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