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Difficult decisions for Dutch
Netherlands coach Dick Advocaat has some big decisions to make as he considers his squad selection for EURO 2004.
Thursday, 05 February 2004


Before the Dutch begin their finals campaign on 15 June against Germany, Advocaat will have five friendlies in which to consider his options: the United States, France, Greece, Belgium and South Africa provide the opposition. For Advocaat, these matches should help him find the right blend of established internationals and talented youngsters. 

Finding that blend is the key. Serious questions were asked after the 3-1 qualifying defeat in the Czech Republic last September. Before that match, the 'Oranje' remained built around the generation of players who emerged in the mid-90s. The stars of Ajax's 1995 Champions League-winning team - Edwin van der Sar, Frank de Boer, Edgar Davids, Michael Reiziger and Patrick Kluivert - had been fixtures in the team for close to a decade. 

So long as results were going their way, there was no problem. From Advocaat's first match against England on 13 February 2002, the Netherlands stayed unbeaten for 14 matches. After defeat in Prague, however, which left the Dutch facing a play-off against Scotland, Advocaat's position became a subject of debate. 

When the Netherlands lost the play-off first leg 1-0 in Scotland, all hell broke loose. "Against my instructions, we played backwards. I am not going to give any names because I prefer to discuss this with the players involved," Advocaat said. He recognised, however, that, with both qualification and his own position under threat, he had no choice but to make changes. The main victims were captain Frank de Boer and Kluivert. 

With youngsters Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart playing important roles in midfield and striker Ruud van Nistelrooij finally given the lead role in attack, the Scots were dismantled 6-0. "This was the right time to rejuvenate the squad. During the World Cup 1994 I made the mistake by maybe keeping in some players for too long," Advocaat said. "I must not make that mistake again." 

While Advocaat is negotiating with the Royal Netherlands Football Association a new contract that will take him up to the 2006 World Cup, the Dutch players recognise a good second half of the season will decide who will go to Portugal. For some, it could be the final showpiece tournament of their careers. 

Frank de Boer, his country's most-capped player with 108 appearances, understood this when he left Galatasaray to join his twin brother Ronald at Rangers. His reasoning was clear. "Advocaat told me that the situation had to change," said the 33-year-old about being left on the bench at Galatasaray. "That is why I signed until the summer of 2004. I have always said that reaching Portugal was my goal." 

Advocaat will also follow closely developments at Barcelona, where there are six potential squad members in Philip Cocu, Michael Reiziger, Marc Overmars, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Kluivert and Edgar Davids. A Barça revival in the second half of the season would do their prospects the power of good. 

At home, meanwhile, Advocaat will be concerned by the injury problems at PSV Eindhoven, which have affected Mark van Bommel, Wilfred Bouma, Kevin Hofland and André Ooijer this season. PSV youngster Arjen Robben will have to continue his good form if he wants a place on the plane to Portugal. The same applies to Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart at Ajax and Robin van Persie at Feyenoord.
- Berend Scholten




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