Tables turned as Wales face declining Dutch

LONDON • A rising power in European football meets a fading force today as Wales begin their Euro 2016 preparations against a Netherlands team still reeling from their failure to qualify.

While Wales are looking forward to their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, the Netherlands will spend next summer kicking their heels after missing out on a place in France just 15 months on from a third-place finish at last year's World Cup in Brazil.

When the teams last met in June 2014, it was the Dutch who were using the match to tune up for a major tournament, and Wales defender Ben Davies is thrilled that the boot is now on the other foot.

"We were a preparation game for them last time and now it's their turn," said the Tottenham Hotspur left-back.

"But it's still a good test for us. They've got some very good players we have to be aware of and they'll be out to prove a point that they're not the team everybody is saying they are."

One Dutchman with plenty to prove to both country and club is Memphis Depay.

The 21-year-old has not played in the Premier League for Manchester United since their October loss at Arsenal. And the Netherlands manager omitted him from his provisional squad, only to perform a U-turn.

Danny Blind, whose side also face Germany in Hannover on Tuesday, had accused Depay of playing selfishly.

But the winger said matters had been resolved during a "positive chat" between the pair.

The player has also hit back at criticism over his attitude following his slow start to life at Old Trafford.

"I think I'm a team player and the other players in the team also think that," he said.

"I don't think I'm on a difficult path of my career as the media talk, but I just think my form isn't very good right now.

"I'm still working hard. Just because I don't show the exact form that I showed at the World Cup or last year, it doesn't mean I don't work hard."

Depay's bid to regain the form that earned him a projected £31.6 million (S$68.2 million) transfer to United from PSV Eindhoven has extended to hiring a home chef. He admitted that he has put on 5kg since arriving at Old Trafford in the summer and is trying to eat right, reported the Times of London.

Meanwhile, the fact remains that the Netherlands must stomach a period of 10 months without a competitive fixture before the 2018 World Cup qualification begins next September.

But for Wesley Sneijder, the meeting with Wales brings with it an opportunity for renewal.

"It's time to make a new start," the Galatasaray playmaker told public broadcaster NOS.

"Quality-wise, we're not among the top teams in the world anymore, I would say for a few years now.

"That's why we have to fight from the moment we walk onto the field and realise that achievement doesn't come naturally."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Tables turned as Wales face declining Dutch'. Print Edition | Subscribe