The Hague (AFP) – Netherlands captain Arjen Robben still has hope that the struggling Dutch can reach next year’s World Cup, despite their perilous position in qualifying ahead of Saturday’s trip to Belarus.
Anything but a win in Barysaw would almost certainly see Dick Advocaat’s side miss out on back-to-back major tournaments for the first time since 1986, having failed to qualify for Euro 2016.
The Dutch sit third in Group A, four points adrift of leaders France and three behind second-placed Sweden heading into the penultimate round of matches.
“I still believe,” said Robben. “The history of football has always thrown up big surprises.”
With Sweden hosting lowly Luxembourg, the Netherlands need a victory to set up a likely straight fight for a play-off place against the Scandinavians in Amsterdam on Tuesday.
But even two straight wins might not be enough, with Sweden holding a superior goal difference (+11) to the three-time World Cup runners-up (+5).
Advocaat took over in May from the sacked Danny Blind for a third spell in charge.
The 70-year-old surprised many with his squad last week when he dropped Wesley Sneijder, the country’s record appearance maker, and recalled Besiktas winger Ryan Babel after a six-year absence.
A 4-0 thrashing in France in August appeared to end the Netherlands’ hopes, but a 3-1 victory over Bulgaria three days later kept them in the hunt.
Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman pulled out of the squad for the two games with a thigh injury on Wednesday.