By Iain Spragg
Frank de Boer is hoping history does not repeat itself when the Netherlands face Belarus in a UEFA European Championship qualifier this Saturday.
The Dutch were beaten 1-0 on their last trip to Minsk in June 1995 during their qualification campaign to reach EURO 96™ but still reached the following summer's finals in England. De Boer is acutely aware that Dick Advocaat's side cannot afford a similar slip-up as they vie with the Czech Republic to win Group 3 and secure automatic qualification for Portugal.
'Expected to win'
"It is fair to say we are expected to beat Belarus but we should not fall into the trap of believing it will happen just because it is expected," De Boer told uefa.com. "Football is not like that. I did not play in Minsk eight years ago but that result proves that this game is not a foregone conclusion. That game has not been forgotten, although I know the team on that day was also expected to win."
The unbeaten Dutch currently lie second with ten points from four games, just behind the Czech Republic on goal difference. The two teams drew 1-1 in Rotterdam in March and with the Dutch facing the tricky return trip in September, De Boer admitted they could ill afford to drop points before then if they were to avoid the play-offs. He said: "After our failure to qualify for the [FIFA] World Cup last summer, we dare not take any chances this time and the safest way to reach the finals is winning the group.
I do not expect the Czech Republic to drop points before we meet later this year, so it is vital that we do not either. We cannot guarantee that we will beat them in their own country and that means we must collect maximum points before then. Anything less would mean a draw for the Czech Republic against us would be a good result for them and they would be in a strong position to win the group."
The Dutch, who have injury concerns over De Boer's FC Barcelona team-mates Phillip Cocu and Marc Overmars, beat Belarus 3-0 in Eindhoven in September. Belarus are fourth in the five-team group with three points from four matches and must win to stand any chance of finishing ahead of Saturday's opponents. A forlorn task has been made all the more difficult after one of the country's best players, the 29-year-old FC Dynamo Kyiv midfield player Aleksandr Khatskevich, was ruled out of the fixture after badly bruising his leg in a league fixture at the weekend.
He will be out for seven to ten days and appears certain to miss next Wednesday's trip to Austria, too. Before that game, third-placed Austria travel to meet Moldova, the section's bottom team. Hans Krankl's side are four points adrift of the Dutch and Czechs but are at full strength for their match in Tiraspol. The Austrian coach is likely to stick with the side which beat Scotland in a recent friendly. "If we play on the counter as effectively as we did in that game things will look bright for us," Krankl said.
Moldova have lost the 24-year-old defender Aleksei Savinov to injury, with his place going to debutant Eduard Valuta, who plays his football in Ukraine for FC Metalurh Zaporizhya. Striker Yuri Miterev has also been brought in after last playing in October 2001 against Turkey.
Additional reporting by Pawel Dimow
Frank de Boer's personal website is at www.icons.com
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