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Preview: Netherlands vs. Iceland

Sports Mole looks ahead to the Euro 2016 qualifier in Amsterdam between the Netherlands and Iceland.

The Netherlands have not failed to qualify for the European Championships since 1984, but with six matches of qualification having already been played for next summer's tournament, their place in France is by no means guaranteed.

On Thursday in Amsterdam they will take on an Iceland side that just missed out on the World Cup, so they will no doubt be looking to go one better this time around.


Netherlands

Holland manager Louis van Gaal with assitant manager Danny Blind (L) during the International Friendly match between The Netherlands and Ecuador at The Amsterdam Arena on May 17, 2014© Getty Images

The Dutch national side are notorious for providing drama, and the current crop of players and management have done nothing to buck that trend.

Fresh from reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup under the guidance of Louis van Gaal, it appeared that new head coach Guus Hiddink had inherited a competitive bunch. Yet, the veteran boss lost his first two matches in charge against Italy and the Czech Republic and his tenure never truly recovered.

In June it was announced that Hiddink had stepped aside having overseen five defeats in 10 outings, with the Oranje also outside of the automatic qualification places in Group A.

If anybody believed that Hiddink's successor - Danny Blind - would make a quiet entrance, he recently blew that theory out of the water when he announced that Robin van Persie had been replaced as captain by Arjen Robben.

Speaking about that decision, Blind told the Dutch FA's official website: "I have not made this choice based on their soccer skills. In the guidance and coaching of teammates Van Persie and Robben are not inferior to each other, but they are two different personalities and right now I need a leader with [Robben's] on-field presence."

On the pitch, Holland have it all to do if they are to finish in the top two places. From their six group encounters, only wins against minnows Latvia and Kazakhstan have been achieved.

However, they do have a proud home record in European Championship qualifying games. In 48 matches, they are yet to taste defeat and perhaps even more impressively, 40 have ended in victories. That run was ever so close to being ended by Turkey last time out, but Klaas-Jan Huntelaar preserved it by scoring a stoppage-time equaliser.

Recent form: LWLWDW
Recent form (all competitions): LWDWLW


Iceland

Iceland team head coach Lars Lagerback speaks during a press conference ahead of the Kirin Challenge Cup international friendly match against Japan at Nagai Stadium on February 23, 2012© Getty Images

The Scandinavians have never featured at a major tournament, but they have put themselves in a decent position to make their debut next summer.

They have lost just once in qualifying, while their other five encounters have all ended in triumphs for Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson's men. It means that were the current group leaders to pile more misery on the Dutch by putting a sixth win on the board, their lead over Blind's charges will be up to eight points with just three matches left to play.

Last time out Iceland avenged the defeat that they had suffered to the Czech Republic earlier in the campaign when they ran out 2-1 winners in Reykjavik.

According to UEFA's official website, the home supporters sang 'Iceland to the finals' at the end of that contest, but co-head coach Hallgrimsson was quick to stress that the job has not been completed yet.

"Our goal is to make it to France and hopefully that dream will come true, but we have to be careful not to get ahead of ourselves. We have got here by being focused on the task and not thinking we are so much better than our opponents," he told reporters.

They may have won two of their three away matches this time around, but prior to that, the Blues went nine trips without recording a victory in European qualification matches. During that period, they also failed to score in eight of those outings.

Recent form: WWWLWW
Recent form (all competitions): LWDWDW


Team News

Arjen Robben (L) and Robin van Persie of the Netherlands walk off the field after scoring two goals each and defeating Spain 5-1 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 13, 2014© Getty Images

Having lost the captain's armband against his will, Fenerbahce centre-forward Van Persie may now be concerned about his place in the starting lineup.

Luuk de Jong and Huntelaar are the other striking options available to Blind, but the boss has been tipped to keep faith with Van Persie for now.

Daley Blind, who is the son of the manager, has been used as a centre-back by Van Gaal at Manchester United this season, but he could well be moved forward into a defensive midfield position for this encounter.

His club teammate Memphis Depay should start on one flank, with new skipper Robben playing on the opposite wing.

As for the away side, Gylfi Sigurdsson is expected to play in midfield, but 36-year-old former Chelsea striker Eidur Gudjohnsen may have to settle for a place among the substitutes.

Netherlands possible starting lineup:
Cillessen; Van der Wiel, De Vrij, Martins Indi, Willems; Blind, Sneijder, Wijnaldum, Robben, Depay; Van Persie

Iceland possible starting lineup:
Halldorsson; R Sigurdsson, Arnason, Saevarsson, Skulason; Hallfredsson, Gunnarsson, Bjarnason, G Sigurdsson, Gudmunds­son; Sigthorsson


Head To Head

Swansea midfielder Sigurdsson was the hero when these two sides met at the Laugardalsvollur Stadium in October as he scored both goals in Iceland's 2-0 win.

That was his nation's first victory in this fixture, with their Dutch counterparts having won eight of the previous nine clashes.


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We say: Netherlands 1-1 Iceland

In years gone by Holland would have been big favourites to win this encounter, but right now it is uncertain times for Dutch football. They still have good players of course, but they will be up against a well organised and disciplined unit.



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 Arjen Robben of Netherlands runs on goal followed by Daniel Gabbidon and Joe Allen of Wales during the International Friendly match between The Netherlands and Wales at Amsterdam Arena on June 4, 2014
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Wednesday's key events


SKATEBOARDING
· Team GB starlet Sky Brown - aged just 13 - takes part in the women's park event and has a realistic chance of picking up a medal too. Bombette Martin is Britain's other representative, while hosts Japan are among the favourites for gold (1am)

HOCKEY
· Great Britain's women have more history in their sights heading into their semi-final against Netherlands - the team they beat in the 2016 gold medal match (2.30am)

ATHLETICS
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· A thrilling men's 200m final is in store as the likes of Andre de Grasse, Noah Lyles and 17-year-old sensation Erriyon Knighton bid to succeed Usain Bolt as Olympic champion (1.55pm)

SAILING
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