Dutch staring down the barrel of ignominy

AMSTERDAM • Unless the Netherlands can beat Sweden by a seven-goal margin today, the inventors of "Total Football" will be absent from the 2018 World Cup Finals.

Having missed the cut for the Euro 2016 Finals, the Dutch team sit third in Group A and can make the play-offs only with a high-scoring win over second-placed Sweden after a poor start to their campaign.

Coach Dick Advocaat, who took over from the sacked Danny Blind four games ago, is in no mood to concede defeat, however.

"A 7-0 win is possible. Sweden have just beaten Luxembourg 8-0, so why can't we do the same," he reasoned.

Skipper Arjen Robben, however, took a more realistic line. "It's over," he said. "Mathematically, it's still possible of course, but we need a miracle."

That miracle will have to be achieved without the fading Wesley Sneijder, 33, who has been a cornerstone of much of their past success, but whose current form for Ligue 1 side Nice was deemed not good enough by Advocaat.

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That's the biggest problem that we have. We warned players, young players, to stay in Holland and play first-team football. Because then, later on when you're good enough, you will get to places anyway.

RUUD GULLIT, the Netherlands' national assistant coach, on the trend of young Dutch players not getting first-team football after moving abroad far too soon.

"Personally, I'd have liked him to be here but the decision is with the coach," said Robben.

Robben, Sneijder and Robin van Persie had led the Netherlands to the 2010 final in South Africa, only to be narrowly beaten by Spain.

At the 2014 World Cup under Louis van Gaal in Brazil, they ripped Spain apart and made a fine run to the semi-finals before suffering another narrow loss, this time to Lionel Messi's Argentina.

Whether or not the Dutch scrape into the play-offs, assistant coach Ruud Gullit has warned of a worrying trend in which young Dutch players move abroad, but then end up not playing first-team football.

"That's the biggest problem that we have," he said ahead of the game. "We warned players, young players, to stay in Holland and play first-team football. Because then, later on when you're good enough, you will get to places anyway."

Sweden can still win the group should France lose to Belarus and they themselves beat the Dutch.

France will be without N'Golo Kante due to a muscle injury.

The Chelsea midfielder limped off shortly after half an hour in the 1-0 away win over Bulgaria on Saturday and was replaced by Paris Saint-Germain's Adrien Rabiot.

"I can't count on him for the next game. It's a muscular problem behind the thigh," France coach Didier Deschamps said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

NETHERLANDS V SWEDEN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2017, with the headline 'Dutch staring down the barrel of ignominy'. Print Edition | Subscribe