Holland manager Ronald Koeman has warned his players they must be prepared to face “fighting machines” when they take on Northern Ireland in Thursday’s crunch Euro 2020 qualifier in Rotterdam.
With Holland due in Belfast next month, both teams are viewing the double-header as a head-to-head battle for a ticket to next summer’s tournament, and, although the odds favour the Dutch, Koeman is wary of the threat posed by Michael O’Neill’s side.
“They are fighting machines,” he said through a translator. “Perhaps they haven’t got the structure or quality technically but it’s very direct, direct confrontations.
“They are a team that can make the games difficult for any opponent and we have to see how we can find the solutions. If they can get at you they will and they will get you by the throat. You’ve got to be prepared for that.”
Koeman watched Northern Ireland’s 2-0 defeat to Germany in Belfast last month with interest, but said he believes there is a big difference between the way O’Neill’s men set up when they are on the road.
“It can be that home and away there is a difference in their game,” he said. “I think they had the idea to perhaps try and finish Germany off and for an hour they were able to live with them and had the better opportunities.
“But from the moment they went 1-0 down you can see the spaces increase and the Germans took advantage.”
Holland sit three points behind Northern Ireland having played a game less in Group C, bidding to make sure there is no repeat of their shock failure to qualify for Euro 2016.
That memory is an unpleasant one for a nation with such a proud and successful history, putting pressure on Koeman’s side this time around.
“We have to qualify still,” he said. “Now we play both games against Northern Ireland for our ticket. It starts (on Thursday) and if we don’t get the result we want, it will be very painful.
“There is always pressure for Holland. We think that we’ve always got to play everywhere and we’ve got the quality for that. I think that this team is very hungry.”
Holland also missed out on the 2018 World Cup and another let-down would be unthinkable for this proud footballing nation – something Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill hopes to exploit.
“We’ll make it as difficult as we can for the Netherlands and by doing that, hopefully create a little bit of doubt,” he said.
“I think it would be a big thing for Holland if they went three tournaments without qualification, so there’s a lot of expectation of this group of players.
“They’re relatively young. I think Daley Blind is the most experienced player in the squad, so we have to create a situation where the game is difficult not only physically for Holland, but mentally as well.
“We can’t get too focused on the names of the Dutch players, they’re just players at the end of the day. When you’re a small nation like us, you have everything to gain in this situation and that’s the way we will approach the game tomorrow night.
“We’ve found a way to get results away from home and that’s what will be required again. Whether that’s from a counter-attack, a set-piece or from possession, we’re not bothered. We’ll take it any way it comes.”