Typical, eh? You wait 22 years for an England semi-final appearance and then two come around within the space of a year. England swatted aside Spain and Croatia to get this far, while the Netherlands put France and Germany to the sword in their group.
England marmalising Spain in Seville.
And while calling the UEFA Nations League a major tournament is a stretch which would require years of chiropractic treatment to resolve, there’s no denying that both teams have earned the right to play for a shot at that lovely shiny vase.
Who Organised This?
Ah, the ever-controversial fixture calendar. The Champions League final scheduling means that six Englishmen and two Dutchmen will have had just four days to recover for this match. Whether that’s better or worse than over 3 weeks without a game, remains to be seen.
The initial evidence from the two sides clumping around Madrid this weekend is that it’s plenty enough time to forget how to play the game entirely.
Anyway, the whole thing is another exceptional piece of organisation from UEFA, who say they had a ripping time in Azerbaijan, they’re sorry none of you could make the 3,000 mile journey, and reckon Henrikh Mkhitaryan probably wouldn’t even have been murdered. They might as well let Ja Rule arrange next season’s calendar.
Cheer Up Spurs, Sober Up Scousers
Lovely Gareth will have some sore heads in his dressing room for one reason or another. Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Danny Rose and Eric Dier will all be reeling from the most painful defeat of their careers. Meanwhile, after the scenes on Merseyside, the victorious Jordan Henderson and Joe Gomez might require a stiff hair of the dog just to get near the pitch.
A warm embrace to Lovely Gareth’s bosom and a millionth re-telling of that penalty anecdote is probably just what the doctor ordered for the Spurs boys. Southgate is using the Nations League as a stepping stone to maintain momentum after last summer’s World Cup, and won’t be letting silly things like club upsets get in the way.
The men in orange haven’t qualified for a tournament since they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2014. Only Danny Blind, Gini Wijnaldum, Jesper Cillessen and Bruno Martins Indi have survived the slump in form since their remarkable Brazilian adventure.
Like England, the Dutch have an exciting bunch of emerging young players who need to prove they can handle the big nights. Victory over World Champions France put the Netherlands back on the map after several dire years, now it’s time for them to show how close to us they are.
Their Ajax contingent will feel that should have been their Champions League final on Saturday, having come so heartbreakingly close against Tottenham. Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek, Blind and Cillessen all have an extra incentive to take vengeance against the English.
De Jong only made his senior debut in September, taking over from a psychopathic ninja by the same name. There’s no question Frenkie is an upgrade on Nigel - his commanding quarterback performances from the base of the Ajax midfield have already earned the 22-year-old a megabucks move to Barcelona. That said, is noticeably less adept at crushing opposition sternums with studs. Depends what you're after, I guess.
Enter The Babelcopter
Talking of red hot names from 2008, expect to see Ryan Babel from the start here. Football’s no.1 Sisqo fan actually had an alright time of it in South West London, netting 5 in 16 appearances from the left flank of a truly appalling Fulham side since joining in January.
A regular starter under Ronny Koeman, Kyle Walker should expect to have his legs well tested here down England’s right flank.
World’s Coolest Scotsman?
Holland have a bloke called Denzel Dumphries in their squad. As far as names go, that’s 10 on 10. Lovely stuff.
Despite Southgate’s clear desire for continuity, this season has seen a quiet revolution within the ranks. Of course, most of the lads who became household names in Russia are still with the camp, but during the course of the season the squad has seen quite an overhaul. But are the new boys upgrades on the World Cup heroes?
Ben Wellchill for Ashley Young; Micky Keane for Gaz Caz; Trent for Tripps; Jadon Sancho for Dat Guy Welbz; Declan Rice for Phillip Jones; all look like sound advances from where I’m standing. Up front, Callum Wilson for Jamie Vardy looks 50/50 so far.
The only slight concern is that competition for places is a smidge scratchy in the middle of the park. Whilst Jordan Henderson’s transformation into a bona fide midfield heavyweight is now complete, the likes of Dier, Lingard, Alli and Delph (?!) are all still here having endured less than stellar seasons.
That said, we’re absolutely dripping with right backs, where an embarrassment of riches means Trent might not even start, Trippier doesn’t make the squad, and there's no place for one of the season’s most exciting full-backs: Obi-Wan Bissaka.
Even if Southgate was to let all the Champions League finalists sit this one out to lick their wounds/ medals, he’d still be left with a capable outfit:
Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Wellchill; Rice, Lingard, Barkley; Raheem, Rashford, Sancho.
Please, Fate, don’t be tempted now. It’s turning into a big week for old-school English arrogance: Anthony Joshua’s pummelling at the hands of the Little Chef, before Pakistan edged England at Trent Bridge, are stark warnings of the pitfalls in believing your own hype.
And who could underestimate a team containing Virgil van Dijk? Pretty sure the Holland captain is going to be fresh - as the tightest man in football, he will have gone straight home from Madrid at the first mention it was his round.
Stats famously show that nobody has dribbled past the human wardrobe this season, unless you are a myopic United fan who sees this run from Rashford as a win:
One thing we learned on Saturday night was that when Harry Kane claims he is “fit,” what he actually means is he able to stand still without crutches for exactly 90 minutes. Give Boots McChin the night off, Gareth, let him find a soft play area by the beach, and hope Rashford can secure passage to the final on Sunday.
Despite not meeting in a major tournament for over 23 years now, the two countries are familiar foes with the Netherland’s routinely selected as a glamour friendly to make up for every 2-0 home win over Estonia fans have to endure.
The good news is that England reset the counter on a 22 year winless streak against Der Oranje just last year. Jeroen Zoet, a man with wrists so chocolatey they rot teeth, was the hero for England, letting J-Lingz screw a shot through him to hand Southgate a rare win in Amsterdam.
Enjoying the nostalgia? We wrote something meaty about the 2-2 played out between the two sides back in 2009.