It’s a mild Monday morning 55 miles north of Rotterdam and a few hundred excitable supporters pack their way into the Netherlands’ Zeist training campus for a glimpse of their heroes.
Netherlands vs N Ireland
October 10, 2019, 7:00pm
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Upbeat chart music and lion mascot ‘Dutchy’ add to the open-day feel but before the training session can begin the players enthusiastically fulfill media duties at the side of the pitch.
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European Champions Virgil van Dijk and Georginio Wijnaldum, fresh from seeing off Leicester City to extend Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League, make their way over to the Sky Sports News camera.
They are polite and accommodating, much like the media and security staff, who leave them to it.
Nearby another fans favourite Frenkie de Jong, surprisingly lively after arriving on two hours sleep following his game for Barcelona the night before, smiles as he answers questions for a local journalist.
There is something in the air that suggests this group of players know they are about to end the major finals hiatus for this proud football nation since the 2014 World Cup.
The last hurdle to clear is Northern Ireland, a vastly more experienced international squad with 726 caps between 23 players compared to 585 for the Dutch, but Ronald Koeman’s side is filled with some of the best players in the world.
It’s a far cry from the days of crushing defeats to Turkey and Bulgaria. Indeed it’s a world away from the time Wesley Sneijder, at the peak of their problems, told the media that he had gone from getting on the team bus knowing they would win 3-0 to a feeling of dread.
In third place in Group C they are still not there but, as fans at the open day speak of their pride in the team in the aftermath of their stunning win in Germany, Sky Sports News asked Van Dijk, Wijnaldum, Koeman and experienced Dutch journalist Maarten Wijffels from Algemeen Dagblad what has prompted the turnaround…
When and where is Euro 2020?Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Northern Ireland will be without Norwich City defender Jamal Lewis, who has withdrawn with a knee injury. Conor Washington was already an absentee with a hamstring injury, along with Rangers winger Jordan Jones.
Former Scotland U21 winger Matty Kennedy could make his debut after switching his international allegiance to Northern Ireland.
Thursday’s European Qualifiers on Sky
Team news and previews ahead of Thursday’s internationals, featuring Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Netherlands, Belgium and more.
How to watch: Coverage starts on Sky Sports Main Event from 7pm; kick-off is at 7.45pm.
What’s the state of play in Group C? Northern Ireland’s perfect start was ripped apart by Germany last time out but Michael O’Neill’s side still have their destiny in their own hands. A tough trip to the Netherlands, who have been back with a bang over the past 12 months, awaits on Thursday night but even defeat in that wouldn’t be fatal, although it would be a bitter blow.
Leaders Germany could find themselves leapfrogged by Netherlands by the end of the international break, especially if they are held themselves by Estonia on Sunday, while Belarus must beat Estonia too to stand any outside chance.