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The Netherlands and France may have played just one game so far in UEFA EURO 2008™ Group C, yet the moods in the respective camps could hardly have been more contrasting ahead of Friday's meeting at the Stade de Suisse in Berne. While Netherlands coach Marco van Basten was doing his utmost to calm expectations following the superb 3-0 victory over Italy on Monday, his opposite number Raymond Domenech attempted to reassure French fans that the Les Bleus were ready to improve on their subdued goalless draw against Romania.
Van Basten, a UEFA European Championship winner in 1988, is bidding to become the first man to clinch the title as player and coach and could not have enjoyed a better start against the world champions. Another victory would propel the Oranje into the last eight, but the former AFC Ajax and AC Milan striker is refusing to get carried away. "We played well against Italy but you don't win the tournament after one match," Van Basten said. "Instead of thinking already about the quarter-finals, we must get our feet back on the ground and start all over again against France, who are a very strong, experienced team."
The Netherlands are likely to adopt a similar formation to that which they deployed against the Azzurri when they meet the two-time winners, with Orlando Engelaar and Nigel de Jong protecting the defence and three support players operating behind striker Ruud van Nistelrooy. Monday's triumph was founded on rapid counterattacks and Van Basten hopes for more of the same, saying: "If one team has to attack it's France. We've already won a game so the pressure is on them." Van Basten nevertheless possesses an enviable array of attacking talent – particularly after Arjen Robben returned to training on Thursday following his groin injury. "Robben is ready to face France," confirmed Van Basten, who must now decide whether to stray from a winning formula.
Domenech seems certain to make at least one change from the side held by Romania, with the fit-again Thierry Henry returning to lead the attack. The France coach had stumbled on the steps on his way to addressing the media, but quickly dismissed suggestions he was feeling anxious and insisted his players would not trip up on Friday. "We know what we have to do and we'll try our best to get the three points," the 56-year-old said. "Personally, I'm hoping for a sparkling French performance, but unfortunately I can't predict anything. We build our side around a solid defence and the Dutch have outstanding attackers, so it should be a good, exciting match."
Similarities are already being drawn with France's 2006 FIFA World Cup campaign – when they opened with a stalemate against Switzerland before reaching the final – and Domenech is convinced his team will again improve as the stakes get higher. "Feeling that danger and fear is important for top-level sportsmen," argued Domenech, who would not reveal whether captain Patrick Vieira has recovered from his thigh injury. "It was always going to be a struggle and hopefully the situation will bring the best out of the players."
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