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Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk on Poland, France and group dynamics – interview

"Winning matches and going as far as possible: that's really very much on my mind right now," says the Netherlands and Liverpool captain as he prepares for UEFA EURO 2024.

Van Dijk: 'Being captain suits me'

Captain of the Netherlands since 2018, Virgil van Dijk is preparing for his first-ever UEFA European Championship, having missed UEFA EURO 2020 through injury. However, after leading his side at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where the Oranje lost out to eventual winners Argentina on penalties in the quarter-finals, the 32-year-old knows all about the challenges of tournament football.

Pick your EURO Fantasy team!

The Liverpool centre-back is happy to be coach Ronald Koeman's deputy on the pitch, and as he looks forward to the Netherlands' Group D encounters with Poland, France and Austria, the former Groningen, Celtic and Southampton defender feels certain that his team have the ability to match any opponent, provided they stick together.

On preparing for a big tournament

You're constantly working together to get everything ready down to the last detail, every day with meetings, in training, tactically, to ensure that we are all on the same page. You play for the Oranje, the highest honour you can have as a player. You are going to play in a major tournament and represent your country. You have to enjoy it, above all, even in the difficult moments, which will certainly be there.

Netherlands' road to Germany: Watch every goal

On his role as a team leader

As captain, I am also the extension of the coach. I know that's my role, and I'm happy about it, and it suits me. As captain, you know that all eyes are on you, but I have got used to that, and it's something I enjoy.

I observe a lot. I naturally look at how everyone behaves, and if someone is in a difficult phase or has lower confidence, you try to act on that too. Ultimately, it's about everyone being involved as a group, and the success we achieve is a collective one, with no one left behind or feeling excluded. Everything we achieve positively, we do together – the 11 players on the field, but also the rest of the guys and the staff. Everyone is involved, from the equipment managers to the chefs and the players on the bench.

On the Netherlands' opener against Poland

Difficult team, good players. I know for sure there will be plenty of Polish fans there to make things difficult for us. We really need the Dutch fans for that game, but the first group game at the EURO is always difficult. We will be working very hard over the coming days and weeks to make sure we are all ready. If you win the first game, it's a big step to the next round but, of course, we have a real fight ahead of us.

On meeting France, who beat the Netherlands twice in qualifying

France are always tough. They obviously have the individual quality to punish you immediately if you make just one mistake. But we also know that if we are 100% and defend and attack well as a team, we can also make it difficult for France. And anything can happen, especially in a major tournament.

France vs Netherlands EURO history

Will I prepare differently for taking on Kylian Mbappé? Not really. It doesn't matter who you play against; you prepare yourself. You know what to expect a bit: the way the opponents play, what they like, what they're good at, and what they're less good at, but that applies to every team and not just France or Mbappé. In the end, it's about defending together as a team.

On what he is looking forward to in Germany

Winning matches and going as far as possible: that's really very much on my mind right now. Winning matches, fighting as a group, as a team, as a country, together, building with each other. And I'm really looking forward to it, for sure.

Is the fact that the Dutch won the last EURO in Germany in 1988 significant? There were only eight teams back then, so that's something different. Ultimately, it's about how you perform in the matches. Luck is certainly something you need, and hopefully we have that bit of luck on our side this year, but it's [also] about how much you want it, what you're willing to do for it, how you experience it as a team, as well as the support. That's very important.