Civil wars threaten to tear the Dutch and French apart

Norman Fox believes that inner strife may deprive the finals of two leading lights
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE inability of a pair of national sides to capture the harmony of their most successful clubs may leave next summer's European Championships without two of its biggest potential attractions. Dissension from within threatens Holland's participation, while France still need a win over Israel on Wednesday to restore confidence and guarantee their trip across or under the Channel.

The Dutch have always argued. As Ruud Gullit said: "When we talk about how we are going to play our games we always end with shouting matches". The French, for their part, have long been in heated debate about the reasons for their failure to qualify for last year's World Cup finals. The arguments have recently been extended because their coach, Aime Jacquet, is not convinced that all the top players at his disposal are ready to come into line with his way of thinking.

A 3-1 win over Romania last month helped, but the prospect of needing to beat Israel is not one France relish since the same side beat them 3-2 in Paris two years ago to deny them their World Cup finals place, and they risk reaching an unappealing milestone, their 200th defeat. They also have in mind that as hosts to the 1998 World Cup they raise high expectations.

The Dutch are in a much more precarious situation. In third place in their group and having to play the leaders, Norway, this week, they have been bickering among themselves about the reasons why they have been successful at club level while struggling against the better teams in their group. Glenn Helder, who because of an injury to his Arsenal colleague Dennis Bergkamp appeared in last month's 4-0 win over Malta, summed up the Dutch frustration: "Look at all the quality players we have. It would be a tragedy if we failed to qualify, especially for Dennis and me as the finals are in England."

Helder points to the quality of Ajax, who impressively beat Milan to win the European Cup last season. As he says, it seems inexplicable that seven of that team were in the national side when the trouble really began, with a 1-0 defeat by Belarus. There were dressing-room arguments that had the comparatively new manager, Guus Hiddink, wondering whether it was possible to transfer club form to the national side. "Some of the players - Ruud Gullit was one - would never accept that a team can only have one boss," a former Dutch team manager, Dick Advocaat, recalls. Hiddink dismisses the distraction of dressing-room lawyers by saying that none of his side wants a defeat by Norway. Bergkamp does not even want to talk about the off-field problems: "Whatever happened in the past, we can't think about losing. It's going to be our toughest match for years. We must win."

Although unbeaten in 16 matches, France began to have serious doubts about qualification after a 1-1 home draw with Poland. Criticism of Jacquet had been gathering momentum and would have become unbearable had the team failed after he left out Eric Cantona and the slightly injured David Ginola in their last game. As it was they won well, but the French still need convincing that Cantona, Ginola and the injured Jean-Pierre Papin - all omitted from the squad for the Israel game - can be considered dispensable. Jacquet knows that while those three talents are priceless, there is always a price in putting them together. Ginola and Cantona have had their differences, while Papin, in spite of his long absence, still expects to be given the respect his past performances deserve. Who would be a manager?