It was in Germany that Ronald Koeman helped the Netherlands to European Championship success as a player in 1988. Now their head coach, can he do the same from the dugout 36 years later at Euro 2024?

Germany last hosted the European Championship back in 1988, when the Netherlands won the tournament thanks to Marco van Basten’s brilliance. Current head coach Ronald Koeman was one of the players that year, as was his brother and Oranje assistant coach Erwin.

Koeman is one of only two head coaches at Euro 2024 to have won the tournament as a player, the other being France’s Didier Deschamps. Can the Dutchman lead his nation to glory again on German soil? Or, having struggled to make a splash on the big stage since the 2014 World Cup, will this be another forgettable campaign?

Recent Tournament Troubles

Failure to qualify for back-to-back major international tournaments caused much pain in the Netherlands. Their inability to reach Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup meant the last European Championship – hosted in 2021 – was their first major tournament appearance in seven years.

After cruising through the group stage of Euro 2020 with maximum points, Frank de Boer’s side went out meekly to Czech Republic in the last 16 – not helped by Matthijs de Ligt’s 55th-minute red card. After such a promising start to the tournament, they exited without recording a single shot on target versus the Czechs.

The Netherlands made harder work of qualification from the group stage at the 2022 World Cup. Despite topping Group A, they laboured to a late win over Senegal in their first game before sharing the points in a disappointing draw with Ecuador. It was always unlikely they’d do anything but win against host nation Qatar in their final game, so a 2-0 victory was hardly a shock.

A 3-1 defeat of the United States in the last 16 offered more promise after navigating their way past a tricky opponent, but Argentina and Lionel Messi awaited them in the quarter-finals.

That game looked like going only one way after Argentina led 2-0 with 17 minutes remaining, before an all-or-nothing comeback led by Louis van Gaal’s substitutions took the game to extra-time. A brilliant free-kick from Teun Koopmeiners and Wout Weghorst’s equaliser contributed to one of the most entertaining games of the finals, in a match labelled the ‘Battle of Lusail‘ after referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz issued 18 yellow cards and one red card to players, setting a new record for cautions in a World Cup match. The Dutch went on to lose the penalty shootout and exited the tournament in the last eight.

Netherlands 2-2 Argentina World Cup

Fast forward to June 2024 and much of the Dutch squad remains the same, but they now have a different leader. Koeman returned as head coach after Van Gaal’s retirement following their World Cup exit, with the former defender entering his second spell in charge of his national team.

His previous period at the helm saw the Netherlands reach the UEFA Nations League final in 2019, before he was lured away by his former club side Barcelona to take their managerial position. Just one trophy at Barcelona followed, the 2020-21 Copa del Rey, before he was dismissed and returned as national team coach on 1 January 2023.

A Strong Defence

Koeman has been fairly conservative in his composition of the Dutch squad. Players who delivered for the Dutch in 2018 and 2019 seem to be preferred again, perhaps explaining, for example, the selection of Georginio Wijnaldum, who made it into the selection despite playing outside of Europe last season with Al-Ettifaq in Saudi Arabia. The former Liverpool midfielder has scored 12 goals in 22 matches under Koeman’s management of the national team.

With regards to exclusions, Bologna’s Joshua Zirkzee, Feyenoord’s Quinten Timber and Borussia Dortmund’s Ian Maatsen were all left at home despite impressive seasons for their respective club sides in 2023-24.

It’s the Netherlands’ defensive options that provide their strength. Captain Virgil van Dijk will always start in central defence, while Premier League champion Nathan Aké, Tottenham’s Micky van de Ven, and the experienced Stefan de Vrij (Inter) and Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich) make up an embarrassment of riches in terms of partners for the Liverpool talisman.

Then, at full-back, Denzel Dumfries is a mainstay on the right but now has competition from Jeremie Frimpong – who enjoyed an excellent season at Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen – and Feyenoord’s Lutsharel Geertruida. Daley Blind is still around at the age of 34 having looked re-energised at Girona in their surprise Champions League qualification campaign, and he’ll vie for the left-back spot with Aké and Van de Ven.

Going Forward

There are still decisions to be made by Koeman about his midfield and attack, with only Frenkie de Jong, Cody Gakpo and Memphis Depay seemingly guaranteed starters when fit.

Depay was unable to secure a starting spot at both Barcelona and Atlético Madrid across the last two seasons, partly due to injury issues. However, he seems to save his best for his national team appearances.

With 44 goals, he’s currently second in the all-time scoring charts for the Netherlands, only behind Robin van Persie’s tally of 50 – a target he could potentially reach by the end of the tournament should things fall into place.

Netherlands Top Scorers Depay

It was an unsuccessful season for Depay overall in Madrid, with the forward starting just 11 times in La Liga for Atlético in 2023-24 and playing only 1,205 minutes across all competitions. He did contribute when given the chance, however, scoring nine times at a rate of a goal every 134 minutes.

Memphis Depay 2023-24 stats

In midfield, the main question yet to be fully answered is when De Jong will return. The Barcelona star suffered an injury in April’s El Clásico and is still yet to fully recover. This didn’t stop Koeman from including him in his Euro 2024 squad, with the midfielder hoping to be fit in time for the group stage. Who should play alongside De Jong in midfield is another conundrum for the coach to solve.

Ideally, against stronger opponents Koeman would like to field a true defensive midfielder, but with the injured Marten de Roon (Atalanta) and Mats Wieffer (Feyenoord) ruled out, it seems more likely that a ball-playing midfielder will play instead.

Tijjani Reijnders has arguably made the strongest case for a starting berth in recent months. The midfielder’s move from AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie to Serie A giants Milan has worked out well for him, making more starts (33) and playing more minutes (2,830) than any of his teammates. He’s played a crucial role in the side with his ball carrying abilities, with only one Serie A midfielder carrying the ball upfield further than Reijnders in 2023-24 (2,976 metres).

Other strong options include Atalanta’s Koopmeiners, who was involved in more Serie A goals across 2023-24 than any other midfielder (17 – 12 goals, 5 assists), and Joey Veerman. He was part of the PSV side that easily won the league title this term and he created the most chances of all players in the top 10 European leagues (130).

The more defensive-minded Jerdy Schouten had a stellar season at PSV alongside Veerman and can provide some steel in the midfield, while Wijnaldum’s experience and reliability means he’s always a solid option for Koeman.

What to Do With Xavi Simons?

One of Koeman’s toughest challenges across his second spell in charge of the national team has been getting the talented Xavi Simons to thrive in his side.

The 21-year-old has shown enough across the last two seasons at PSV and RB Leipzig to prove he was worthy of the wonderkid label that was hung around his neck so many years ago. Over those two campaigns, he scored 27 goals and assisted a further 19 for teammates in league competition, with a goal involvement every 120 minutes on average. It’s a different story at international level, however, with Simons still waiting for his first goal or assist in 13 appearances.

Across 2023-24, only Leroy Sané (93) and Jamal Musiala (87) successfully dribbled past opponents more often in the Bundesliga than Simons (84), who averaged 2.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes. However, displaying that bravery and flair hasn’t come so easy when playing for the Dutch national team, averaging only 1.1 successful take-ons per 90 across his career for the Oranje.

Xavi Simons Netherlands

Part of the confusion over Simons seems to stem from an uncertainty of where to deploy him in the national team. While it’s an advantage that he’s versatile and can play in many positions, he’s spent most of his time at club level successfully playing on the left wing – a space occupied by Gakpo in the national team.

Will this tournament allow Simons to finally make his mark on the national side and show his worth to Koeman? We’ll look forward to finding out.

Xavi Simons Positions

Dutch Hopes

Ahead of their Euro 2024 kick-off versus Poland on 16 June, the Netherlands have two friendlies against Canada and Iceland to finetune their preparations.

There will be opportunities for players to force their way into Koeman’s starting XI for the Group D opener, while the head coach will need to figure out the ideal formation for his side to flourish. Will he opt for a three- or four-man defence?

The pre-tournament Opta supercomputer predictions for Euro 2024 project the Dutch as the sixth most likely winners (5.1%), while they have a 45.8% chance of going one step further than at Euro 2020 and reaching the quarter-finals. Placed in a group with France, the Netherlands are second favourites to advance from Group D (76.2%), ahead of both Austria (51.1%) and Poland (45.0%).

When Koeman lifted the European Championship trophy in Munich back in June 1988, the Netherlands weren’t the favourites. Thirty-six years later, he has another opportunity to help the Dutch cause a shock on German soil, this time as a coach.

Ronald Koeman Euro 1988

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