As I said yesterday, today’s plan goes like this: this preview (France and Holland), the final rosters for the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Turkey (Group A) all in one post, the final rosters for Austria, Germany, and Poland (Group B) in another post, the final rosters for France, Italy, and Romania (Group C) in another post, and then lastly, the second part of the Group C preview (Italy and Romania). Remember, Portugal, Croatia, Holland, Greece, Russia, Sweden, and Spain already announced their squads, so you can scroll down the homepage to find those.
Let’s get started by taking a look at the match schedule for Group C (all times Eastern):
Romania vs. France (Noon; Letzigrund Stadion, Zürich)
Holland vs. Italy (2:45; Stade de Suisse, Wankdorf, Berne)
Italy vs. Romania (Noon; Letzigrund Stadion, Zürich)
Holland vs. France (2:45; Stade de Suisse, Wankdorf, Berne)
Holland vs. Romania (2:45; Stade de Suisse, Wankdorf, Berne)
France vs. Italy (2:45; Letzigrund Stadion, Zürich)
Defeated by Italy on PK’s in the 2006 World Cup final, France will be hungrier than ever to get some payback for that disappointment by beating the Azzurri in the final game of the group stage.
Before they get to that match, though, France has a lot of work to do to put themselves in a position to advance to the quarterfinals and beyond, as both Holland and Romania will provide stiff competition this summer. Raymond Domenech’s team finished three points behind Italy in qualifying for this tournament, although France took four of six points in the two games. There are certainly no easy games in this group, but France’s best opportunity to win, at least on paper, seemingly comes in their first game against Romania.
Domenech’s 23-man roster looks very similar to what we’ve seen in recent years, and it really wasn’t a surprise when striker David Trézéguet wasn’t included. While there is no denying his talent, Trézéguet and Domenech have often bumped heads (and egos) and with the emergence of Lyon’s Karim Benzema, Trézéguet was viewed as unnecessary. Also not included was Louis Saha, who had an injury-plagued season at Manchester United.
In goal, Grégory Coupet will finally get a chance to prove himself on a big stage as Fabien Barthez stepped aside after the World Cup. Directly ahead of Coupet, William Gallas and Lilian Thuram headline a great back line, with either Éric Abidal or the hard-charging Patrice Evra at left back and Willy Sagnol on the right. The two stalwart defensive midfielders, Claude Makélélé and Patrick Vieira, will take up their longstanding roles and could be playing their last truly meaningful games for France. Franck Ribéry has become an automatic first choice for Domenech on the wing, and opposite him will be Chelsea’s Florent Malouda. Up front, Thierry Henry should partner Karim Benzema, though Nicholas Anelka can never be counted out. My guess is we’ll see a 4-2-2-2, with Vieira and Makélélé both sitting back to allow Ribéry and Malouda to really push forward.
As the traditional big dogs in their qualifying group, Holland made life exceedingly difficult for themselves by finishing second behind Romania, only one point ahead of third-place Bulgaria. Robin van Persie led the Oranje in goal scoring with 4, but that was good enough for only a sixth-place tie. As a team, they only managed 15 goals in 12 games despite playing in a group that featured several lightweights in Albania, Luxembourg, Belarus, and Slovenia.
Suffice it to say that the Dutch underperformed in qualifying. Coach Marco van Basten, who will be joining Ajax in the same capacity after this tournament, has made it a point to usher in a new era for the national team, choosing younger players over their more experienced, more decorated counterparts. This fresh blood is unproven at this level, and although there are several holdovers in this squad, most of whom will feature, it’s hardly a time to experiment with a young group of players, especially in what is by far the toughest group of the competition. With that said, van Basten has a much better relationship with the young players, and there is something to be said for that instead of possible hostility between the coach and guys like Clarence Seedorf and Marc von Bommel.
In goal, the captain, Edwin van der Sar, is at the top of his game right now after winning both the Premiership and Champions League at Manchester United. He’ll need to come up large because his back line, the traditional weak link of the Dutch national team, is very uninspiring once again.
Only six defenders were included on the final roster, and as far as quality and ability goes, they are almost a wash. Wilfred Bouma had a great season at Aston Villa, playing a league-high 37 out of 38 league games, and he’ll feature either at left back, where Tim de Cler plays, or in the center. John Heitinga also looks certain to start, and he can play in the center or on the right, which is Mario Melchiot’s traditional position and he had a solid season at Wigan. André Ooijer has been a fixture in the middle, but Joris Mathijsen also is a natural center back. My guess? Melchiot on the right, Heitinga and Bouma in the center, and de Cler on the left, but the back line definitely is up in the air at this point.
In the midfield, van Basten has said recently that he’s considering shifting to a 4-2-3-1 for this tournament instead of the 4-3-3 “total football” system typically employed by the Dutch. The breakdown of this squad by position would indicate a 4-3-3because there simply isn’t enough quality in the defensive midfield slots to justify using two of them. If a 4-2-3-1 is used, expect to see Nigel de Jong and Giovanni van Bronckhorst in the holding roles, Rafael van der Vaart in the center, Wesley Snejider on one wing, and Robin van Persie on the other. If van Basten opts to go with the 4-3-3, which would be my pick, van der Vaart, Snejider, and van Bronckhorst would make up the midfield.
Up front, it again depends on the formation. Ruud van Nistelrooy is basically guaranteed the center forward position either way as he is still a few notches above Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. In the 4-2-3-1, van Nistelrooy would be by himself, but in the 4-3-3, Robin van Persie would play on one wing, with either Ryan Babel or more likely Arjen Robben on the other.
Holland’s first two games are against France and Italy, so it’s very likely that they’ll need to beat Romania in the final group match to advance. In qualifying, only one goal was scored between both teams in their two games, with Romania taking four out of the six possible points.
Check back later on this afternoon for the second part of this Group C preview, which will feature Italy and Romania.