The Netherlands are eager to end their chase for a UEFA EURO 2008™ place against Luxembourg on Saturday, but have a warning from history against complacency.
Second in Group G, four points ahead of third-placed Bulgaria, a win against Luxembourg in Rotterdam would seal the Dutch a place in their fifth successive UEFA European Championship since their triumph at the 1988 finals, and their eighth appearance in total. Only Germany and Russia can boast a better qualification record.
However, if the 49,000 fans at De Kuip are expecting an easy ride from Luxembourg, they would do well to take a history lesson. While the Netherlands have not conceded a goal against the Grand Duchy in 44 years, the last ones they let in were to prove extraordinarily costly for the Oranje.
Back on 20 October 1963, Camille Dimmer scored twice in a 2-1 win for Luxembourg in Rotterdam to knock the Netherlands out of the 1964 UEFA European Championship. That result remains the Netherlands' only defeat on home soil in a EURO qualifier, and while a similar result might not be a disaster on Saturday, it would represent a colossal upset.
Marco van Basten is taking the game seriously, and is expected to shift from his favoured 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 formation. "Our playing style depends upon the opponent and the players we have available," he said, citing the absences through injury of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. "Against the Luxembourg defenders we stand more chance when playing with two central strikers."
One of those target men is sure to be Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has been on song since returning to the first team after resolving a dispute with his coach in August. With 30 goals from 58 international games so far, the Real Madrid CF striker is ten short of Patrick Kluivert's Dutch record, and will fancy his chances of adding to his tally against Luxembourg and then Belarus in the final qualifier.
'Almost at the end'
"For a striker it is nice to have someone playing close to you," Van Nistelrooy said. "It may seem very attack-minded, but against these kinds of opponents that is possible. I hope it will work out well against Luxembourg. We are almost at the end of qualifying and after that we have plenty of time to work towards the finals and decide how we will line up in the future."
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