Chatting to a Dutch friend last night, I said tonight’s match was only a friendly; to which he replied, when the Netherlands play Belgium, it’s never a friendly. That’s true to an extent and we should hope for some serious football. The result almost certainly won’t match that of the friendly in 1999, RobertWaseige’s first match in charge, when the Netherlands – with Jaap Stam, Dennis Bergkamp and Edgar Davids – drew 5-5 with a Belgium side that included Emile Mpenza, Gert Verheyen and Marc Wilmots.
Wilmots will be there tonight – his first home game as coach following the demise of Georges Leekens and he’ll be facing Louis van Gaal who is expected to pick up the pieces following the Dutch failure in the European championships.
The Belgian Football Association has asked the fans to paint the town red tonight, as a response to the Dutch fans’ ability to paint any stadium orange. The response has been good and the match has been sold out for several weeks. The Mayor of Geel (‘yellow’ in Dutch) has gone as far as saying the twon will be known as ‘Rood’ (red in Dutch) for 24 hours. It’s a pity that Belgium’s captain Vincent Kompany has been withdrawn, shortly after saying that the match was a good opportunity for the team to get together and be more united ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.
It’s hard to forecast the teams and the Belgian media will be frustrated as today is a Bank Holiday (Assumption) so there are no newspapers in Belgium; that’s not the case over the border in the Netherlands. As well as Kompany and Marouane Fellaini dropping out, there is also a doubt about Eden Hazard. Those withdrawals could dampen the fans’ enthusiasm as Tuesday’s newspapers focused on the need for this special generation to start delivering with results against the major footballing nations.
Wilmots will also go 4-3-3 and I expect him to give Simon Mignolet the nod in goal as, like Leekens, he tends to favour loyalty. That could also mean places for Danial Van Buyten and Timmy Simons – choices that could upset a lot of supporters as they see these two players as somewhat ‘past their best’ There are a few obvious choices and I would think Genk’s Christian Benteke would be given a run, rather than West Brom loanee Romelu Lukaku. I would like to see Kevin De Bruyne start but that seems unlikely. At right back, Anderlecht’s Guillaume Gillet might be given another chance after his encouraging performance against England.
I asked Dutch football expert Mohamed Moallin (@jouracle) for his thoughts about tonight and he reckoned that the performance would be more important than the result. He feels van Gaal will play 4-3-3, the Ajax way. Mohamed thinks there could be some new faces and he singled out AZ’s Nick Viergever, a ball-playing centre back similar to Spurs’ Jan Vertonghen, Ajax’s Ricardo van Rhijn – “a dynamic full back” – and PSV’s Luciano Narsingh, “an old school Dutch winger”. The latest news however was that Feyenoord’s Joris Mathijsen would be favoured ahead of Viergever.
Many of the Belgium team have Dutch connections; Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen were once Ajax favourites, Moussa Dembele was at AZ, Dries Mertens is now a regular with PSV, Nacer Chadli is at Twente, while Toby Alderweireld is still on the Ajax payroll. The Dutch will therefore know a lot about the Belgians, while if van Gaal throws in some youngsters, the Red Devils could get some surprises. Something tells me that it might not be a good night for Belgium; I hope I’m wrong and it’s certain that the fans will get behind the team from the start, hoping for that big win that will put them on the road to Rio.
Belgium: Mignolet; Gillet, Vermaelen, Van Buyten, Vertonghen; Simons, Witsel, Hazard (or Dembele); Mertens, Chadli, Benteke.
Netherlands: Stekelenburg; Van Rhijn, Heitinga, Mathijsen, Willems; Nd Jong, Sneijder, Vd Vaart; Narsingh, Huntelaar, Robben