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Soccer-Dutch seek to write history in Nations League


AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman said he and his team wanted to write history by winning the Nations League for the first time when they host the tournament next week.

The Dutch take on Croatia in their first semi-final in Rotterdam on Wednesday, followed by Thursday’s clash between Italy and Spain in Enschede. The winners go on to the final on Sunday, June 18.

“We can write history,” said Koeman at a press conference on Saturday. “If you win something with a national team, there is something behind your name. That awareness is present within the squad. You can feel it, the players are talking about it, talking about winning.”

The Dutch also competed in the first Nations League finals four years ago when they beat England in the semi-finals but lost to hosts Portugal in the decider.

“You saw how happy Portugal were in 2019 when we played against them. It was always about a European Championship or World Cup but now the Nations League has been added.”

Koeman said success at the 1988 European Championship, where he played, remained a reference for Dutch football as it was their only major title.

“Everyone talks about 1988, when the tournament was only made up of eight teams. That says it all. There’s something behind your name. That awareness is there. We are therefore driven to win this prize,” he added.

The Dutch, however, must do without lead striker Memphis Depay, ruled out by injury.

“In principle, he has to train all summer to start the new season fit. I still think a fit Memphis is a great player but it gives us the opportunity to put other players in that position.”

Koeman returned for a second spell as Dutch coach at the start of the year, taking over from Louis Van Gaal.

But he lost his first game back 4-0 to France in the European Championship qualifiers in March before labouring to beat minnows Gibraltar 3-0 in Rotterdam.

“It was a very bad week in which everything went wrong. Injuries, illnesses, results. We are now playing a semi-final, so we can put things right in one fell swoop.

“We are still not complete but it is also good if three Dutchmen play a Champions League final,” he said referencing Saturday’s match in Istanbul where Nathan Ake lines up for Manchester City against Inter Milan defenders Stefan de Vrij and Denzel Dumfries.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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