The Netherlands will be hoping to put their disastrous Euro 2016 qualifying campaign behind them when they attempt to reach the World Cup in Russia in two years’ time, with Sweden also aiming to advance to the tournament as they begin the post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic era (7.45pm Tuesday on ITV4).
The Dutch failed dismally in trying to secure a place at this summer’s expanded European Championship in France, finishing in fourth spot behind Czech Republic, Iceland and Turkey in their group.
The Netherlands’ performances and results stunned the country, whose supporters usually expect to see their side challenging for trophies at major tournaments as opposed to struggling to qualify for them. There are worries that the 1974, 1978 and 2010 World Cup finalists’ malaise will stretch beyond the Euro 2016 campaign and into World Cup qualification, with the Netherlands’ problems running far deeper than many people at first anticipated. The nation does not seem to be producing the same quality of footballer as it used to, while the lack of players in their prime to follow in the footsteps of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder is another cause for concern.
Sweden did make it to the 15th edition of the European Championship earlier this year, but a trio of underwhelming performances saw them crash out at the group stage with just a single point to their name. Things will be even more difficult for Janne Andersson’s side – the 53-year-old succeeded the relatively long-serving Erik Hamren as the Swedes’ manager after the tournament in France – now that Ibrahimovic has decided to hang up his international boots. Ibrahimovic is focusing on prolonging his club career and the World Cup qualifying draw is not making things at all easy for the national side. Indeed, Sweden will have to overcome at least one of France or the Netherlands to finish in the top two of Group A, while Bulgaria and Belarus will not be pushovers, either.
England-based players Daley Blind, Maarten Stekelenburg, Virgil van Dijk, Patrick van Aanholt, Georginio Wijnaldum and Vincent Janssen (pictured) have all been called up to Blind’s Netherlands squad. Manchester United wide man Memphis Depay and Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – who has found the back of the net on 42 occasions in his 76 international caps – both failed to make the cut. Bas Dost, Luuk de Jong, Kevin Strootman, Ron Vlaar, Jasper Cillessen and Sneijder are also in contention for a starting spot against the Swedes at the Friends Arena in Solna.
Andersson, meanwhile, has named Celtic defender Mikael Lustig and Leeds United’s Pontus Jansson in his Sweden group, but Sunderland midfielder Seb Larsson will miss out through injury. Panathinaikos frontman Marcus Berg and Celta Vigo centre-forward John Guidetti will be tasked with attempting to step into the sizeable shoes of Ibrahimovic, whose absence is likely to be keenly felt both on Tuesday and for the remainder of World Cup qualifying.
The Netherlands’ football culture and traditions have been firmly built on a possession-based game and 4-3-3 formation. It will be interesting to see whether they return to those roots or begin to move in a different direction after the nadir of failing to reach this year’s 24-team European Championship. In the shorter-term, though, the Dutch should have too much quality for Sweden, who were one of the most disappointing teams at the aforementioned Euros despite the presence of Ibrahimovic at the top of the pitch.
Taking everything into account, this preview’s conclusion is that it is probably worth backing the Netherlands to come out on top this midweek. They are generally 6/5 shots to do that with the major bookmakers, while Sweden are 5/2 and the draw a 9/4 chance. A 2-1 away victory looks to be the best option in terms of the correct score, with Tottenham’s Janssen a sensible choice for the game’s first goalscorer.