Belgium will aim to kick off the 2023 UEFA European Under-21 Championship with a first competitive win against neighbours the Netherlands.
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Belgium will aim to kick off the 2023 UEFA European Under-21 Championship with a first competitive win against neighbours the Netherlands as the teams meet in Group A at the Meskhi Stadium in Tbilisi.
The Belgians are making their fourth finals appearance and looking to progress from the group stage for only the second time. The Dutch, meanwhile, were champions in 2006 and as hosts in 2007, but have featured in the final tournament only twice since – although they reached the semi-finals on each occasion.
Co-hosts Georgia and Portugal are the other teams in Group A, with all six games to be played in Tbilisi at either the Meskhi Stadium or the Paichadze Stadium.
The countries have not played a competitive U21 fixture in 16 years but they did meet in a friendly in Leuven on 23 September 2022, Brian Brobbey scoring both Netherlands goals (14, 44) in a 2-1 win. Half-time substitute Olivier Deman got the home side's consolation goal 18 minutes from time.
Belgium had won their previous match against the Netherlands – the sides' first meeting in a decade – with a 4-1 away success on 22 March 2018. That was just their third victory overall against their neighbours and a first since October 1984, ending the Netherlands' nine-match unbeaten run against Belgium (W5 D4).
This is the sides' sixth European U21 Championship fixture, and a first since June 2007, when they shared a 2-2 Matchday 3 draw in Heerenveen. Kevin Mirallas (9) and Sébastien Pocognoli (70) scored for Belgium with Maceo Rigters (13) and Royston Drenthe (37) on target for the Netherlands as both sides reached the last four.
The Netherlands reached the 2000 finals at Belgium's expense, drawing 2-2 in Heerenveen in the first leg of the play-off before a 2-0 away win in Mouscron.
The teams were also paired together in qualifying for the 1998 tournament, a 2-2 draw in Liège preceding a 5-2 Dutch win in The Hague that helped them finish first in Group 7 and qualify for the finals, with Belgium eliminated in third place.
Devyne Rensch, Kenneth Taylor and Brobbey were in the Netherlands side that beat Belgium 3-0 in the 2019 European U17 Championship quarter-finals on their way to lifting the trophy. Maarten Vandevoordt and substitute Ameen Al Dakhil were both in the Belgium team with Senne Lammens and Hugo Siquet unused replacements.
This is Belgium's fourth appearance in the U21 final tournament, and a first since 2019, when they lost all three games to finish bottom of Group A behind Spain, Italy and Poland, scoring four goals but conceding eight.
Belgium also bowed out in the group stage on debut in 2002, their best performance coming five years later in the Netherlands where they reached the semi-finals before losing to Serbia.
This time round Jacky Mathijssen's side remained unbeaten to finish first in Group I on 20 points, three ahead of Denmark. Belgium won six of their eight games, scoring 14 goals, conceding only two and keeping six clean sheets.
Belgium were the first of the 14 teams who came through qualifying to book their place at the finals, thanks to a 1-1 draw against Denmark in their penultimate fixture on 29 March 2022.
Loïs Openda was the team's top scorer in qualifying with seven goals, putting him joint second in the overall rankings for the 2023 preliminaries. He scored at least once against all four Group I opponents and is now Belgium's all-time top scorer at U21 level with 13 goals, one more than Kevin Vandenbergh (2003–05).
The Netherlands have reached the final tournament for the sixth time, although only the third since claiming back-to-back titles in 2006 and, as hosts, 2007. The only tournament in which they failed to progress from the group stage was in 2000.
Both subsequent finals campaigns have ended in the semi-finals, against Italy in 2013 (0-1) and Germany in 2021 (1-2).
Two years ago, the Netherlands had finished top of Group A on five points, progressing with eventual champions Germany on goals scored in a three-way head-to-head with Romania. Myron Boadu's double, the second goal three minutes into added time, secured a 2-1 quarter-final victory against France but the Jong Oranje were unable to recover from conceding twice in the first eight minutes of their last-four tie against Germany.
Erwin van de Looi's side won eight of their ten qualifiers for the 2023 finals, drawing the other two, to finish three points clear of Switzerland in Group E. They scored 32 goals and conceded only three, Joshua Zirkzee finishing as their top scorer on seven, which put him joint second overall.
Links and trivia
Have played together:
Zeno Debast & Bart Verbruggen, Joshua Zirkzee (Anderlecht 2021/22)
Aster Vranckx & Micky van de Ven (Wolfsburg 2021/22)
Have played in Belgium:
Jurgen Ekkelenkamp (Antwerp 2022–)
Bart Verbruggen (Anderlecht 2020–)
Joshua Zirkzee (Anderlecht 2021/22 loan)
Kjell Scherpen (Oostende 2022 loan)
Has played in the Netherlands:
Maxime Delanghe (PSV Eindhoven 2020–22)