The Dutch national football team are certain to proceed to next year’s European Championship finals after beating Finland earlier this month. But with two qualifying matches to go, Holland want more: finishing in the top spot of Group E would give them a number of privileges, including the right to play the first three group matches of the finals in the same venue.
To finish in pole position, the Dutch need to win at least one of the two upcoming qualifiers. On Friday 7 October, they face Moldova in Rotterdam and four days later they meet Sweden in Stockholm.
Meanwhile, the men in orange will closely watch the performance of their main rival for the last spot in Pot 1, which contains the first seeds of the four groups in the draw for next year’s finals, scheduled in Kyiv for 2 December.
Three of the four top-seeds – hosts Ukraine and Poland and world champions Spain - have been known from the start. The most likely candidates for the last spot are the Netherlands and Group A leaders Germany.
Confused? The Dutch players won’t be. As usual, they’ll go for a win against Moldova and Sweden. And as usual, the 23-strong squad will converge on the seaside resort of Katwijk on Monday for their first training session.
The side is somewhat depleted, though. Star attraction Wesley Sneijder is out of action with a groin injury and centre-back John Heitinga has called off with a knee problem. More seriously, Barcelona winger Ibrahim Afellay tore a ligament in his knee last week, an injury that may cause him to miss next year’s finals.
“Sneijder and Heitinga regret not being able to play, but they’re just not fit enough,“ Bert van Marwijk told a press conference on Friday. The Holland boss reflected briefly on the seedings for the final tournament group stage draw. While reaffirming his ambition to land in Pot 1, he also pointed out a few drawbacks of being top seed:
“If you enter the draw in Pot 2, you could be coupled with Ukraine or Poland, which might be better than being top seed and getting Germany in your group. We’ll know more after the draw.”