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After a four-month winter break, the Netherlands will return to qualifying action in the coming weeks with high-profile matches away against Bulgaria (World Cup qualifier) and at home against Italy (friendly).
The previous Oranje fixture was in Luxembourg on 13 November 2016, when the hosts were defeated 3-1. Ages ago, it seems. But the Oranje drought is about to end, both for the side and the supporters. National manager Danny Blind can’t wait to get back in action: “We are looking forward to those matches: that’s what it’s all about”.
The Netherlands will play two World Cup qualifiers before the summer break. Blind's men will take on Bulgaria in Sofia on 25 March before hosting Luxembourg in Rotterdam on 9 June. “We only have one objective: clinching six points,” the Netherlands manager tells KNVB Media. “First Bulgaria, which won’t be easy, but we should be able to get the job done.”
The past four and a half months haven’t been quite a holiday for the Oranje coaching staff. Far from it. The manager, his staff and scouts have been keeping a close eye on the performance of potential squad members.
Green is by far the dominant colour on Blind’s television set at home
Every Monday, the staff will get together to discuss candidates’ current form and potential. “We watch matches, review them and assess them,” Blind says, summarizing part of his job.
“I watch around ten matches a week. Sometimes more, and most of them live. It starts at 13.30 on Saturday with an English Premier League fixture, followed by more matches in England and Germany kicking off at 16.00. There’s often another match in England at 18.30 and later in the evening I watch the Dutch matches on television. On Sunday, I attend a match and during the week, there are often European or Dutch Cup matches scheduled.”
In the period between international fixtures, Blind tries to leave his players alone as much as possible. "They are committed to their clubs, that’s their prime focus every day of the week. Having said that, I may contact them if something happens, like an injury or when I wonder why someone doesn’t play anymore."
Blind also visited his three captains last month: Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Kevin Strootman. To talk about their personal situation, among other things. "But you always widen the conversation. For instance, I'm curious to know how they view the upcoming games, our team and our playing style. Of course, eventually, I decide, but you tend to allow some input from your captains to some degree.”
You are curious to know how the captains view our playing style
Selecting the preliminary squad wasn’t easy given the number of injuries, particularly among the defenders. Two central defenders – Virgil van Dijk and Jeffrey Bruma – will miss out on the upcoming matches.
"You’re constantly switching in your head. Sometimes, one player’s injury may not be all that bad when you have several options for their position, but it can also be the option, in which case it becomes problematic. You have to be prepared for this."
And then there are regular Netherlands players who hardly play with their clubs. Select them or not? It is a tricky decision. "It also has to do with the level of play. If you’re a player at Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur, it is not obvious that you won’t always get a game. "
Blind: "It's up to me and my staff to make choices and those choices are always based on quality. That is key to achieving results. If there are multiple players with the same quality, then other factors such as playing time and fitness come into play. But everything has its limits. That's for me to decide. "
Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord), Daley Blind (Manchester United), Jasper Cillessen (Barcelona), Memphis Depay (Olympique Lyon), Bas Dost (Sporting CP), Leroy Fer (Swansea City), Wesley Hoedt (Lazio), Vincent Janssen (Tottenham Hotspur), Luuk de Jong (PSV Eindhoven), Rick Karsdorp (Feyenoord), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Tim Krul (AZ Alkmaar), Jeremain Lens (Fenerbahçe), Bruno Martins Indi (Stoke City), Davy Pröpper (PSV Eindhoven), Quincy Promes (Spartak Moscow), Bart Ramselaar (PSV), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Marten de Roon (Middlesbrough), Kevin Strootman (AS Roma), Jens Toornstra (Feyenoord), Joël Veltman (Ajax), Tonny Vilhena (Feyenoord), Michel Vorm (Tottenham Hotspur), Stefan de Vrij (Lazio), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool) en Jeroen Zoet (PSV Einhoven).