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Poland have an excellent track record of finding the back of the net, so there could be goals at both ends in this one.
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The Netherlands are on their way back. A failure to qualify for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup forced the country to ask itself some difficult questions. Most nations of comparable size accept that they will miss out on tournaments from time to time, but a population of 17.4 million is not the only relevant factor when discussing Dutch soccer. The sport has a rich history in the Netherlands, which has always had an outsize influence on the way the game is played.
The road back from those twin qualification failures has not been entirely smooth. The Netherlands advanced from the group phase of Euro 2020 with a minimum of fuss but suffered a surprise defeat by the Czech Republic in the round of 16. Frank de Boer, who had never truly been convinced as the manager of the national team, was duly dismissed.
The appointment of Louis van Gaal in his place was not to everyone’s liking. This is the 70-year-old’s third spell in charge of his country. In his first, the Netherlands failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
Twelve years later, he led them to a third-place finish at the same tournament in Brazil. Yet he had been out of work for five years by the time the Dutch came calling in 2021, and many fans would have preferred a younger compatriot (a foreigner has not managed the Oranje since the Austrian Ernst Happel in the late 1970s) to get the job.
However, a feeling of cautious optimism surrounds the Netherlands as the 2022 World Cup approaches. Two wins from two in the Nations League, and in particular a 4-1 thrashing of Belgium on matchday one, has lifted the mood. The Dutch look increasingly like potential dark horses for Qatar.
Poland’s ambitions later this year will not be so grand. They have also been tipped as potential dark horses in recent tournaments – and that status made sense. In Robert Lewandowski they possess one of the best players in world soccer. They were not exactly a one-man team either, with key contributions coming from other areas. Yet Poland disappointed at the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020, crashing out in the group stage of both competitions.
Perhaps things will be different in Qatar. It will probably be Lewandowski’s last appearance at a major tournament, although participation at Euro 2024 is not out of the question. Poland finished second in Group I in the first stage of the European qualification process for Qatar, before beating Sweden in the play-off final (they were given a bye in the semis after Russia was expelled).
Poland have been drawn alongside Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Mexico at the 2022 World Cup; the battle for second spot will probably be between them and the Mexicans. The Nations League, which is being treated by many nations as a warm-up for November and December, has brought mixed results so far: a 2-1 victory over Wales followed by a 6-1 thrashing by Belgium.
The fact that Wales named a severely under-strength starting XI on matchday one means Poland still have plenty to prove. A positive result in Rotterdam this weekend would show Argentina and Mexico that Czeslaw Michniewicz’s team means business.
As you might expect for a side that has Lewandowski leading the line, Poland know how to put the ball in the back of the net. There were not many positives to take from their 6-1 demolition by Belgium last time out, but Poland did at least score a goal. They have now done so in each of their last 20 matches, a run which the likes of Italy, England, Germany, Portugal and Spain cannot match.
The problem for Poland is at the other end of the pitch. Since the middle of November 2020, they have only managed to keep clean sheets against Andorra, San Marino and Albania, two of whom are among the world’s weakest teams according to the FIFA Rankings. The concession of six goals to Belgium shows that Michniewicz’s side are far from solid at the back.
The Netherlands will therefore fancy their chances of putting a few goals past Poland on Saturday. They have scored two goals or more in eight of their last 10 matches and are playing with the sort of verve and imagination that is traditionally associated with the Oranje (although Van Gaal’s choice of formation is not always to the taste of the purists among the Dutch public).
Both teams to score is the way to go here. The Netherlands should be able to take advantage of Poland’s leaky backline, particularly on home soil, but Lewandowski and co. have a fine track record of finding the net.
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|Netherlands vs Poland Information
|Netherlands vs Poland
|De Kuip, Rotterdam, Netherlands
|Saturday, 11 June 2022, 2.45 PM EDT
|How to watch
|Fox Sports 2, fuboTV
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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