Football: Taylor tackles the Dutch conundrum: At Wembley on Wednesday England will discover whether the Netherlands are in decline or transition. Norman Fox reports

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The Independent Online
THEY SAY Graham Taylor is a lucky manager. You could have believed it when Chris Waddle faded into insignificance and Sheffield Wednesday lost the Coca-Cola Cup final. Waddle could have played like a dream and given Taylor nightmares about not including him in the squad for Wednesday's match against the Dutch at Wembley, but he drifted away, just as on many important occasions.

So is Taylor getting it right or merely lucky? If there is luck on his side he could find that not only are the Netherlands going to be depleted by the absence of Marco van Basten, possibly Frank Rijkaard, and most significantly, Ronald Koeman, but that they are in decline. Or are they only in transition? Taylor is about to discover whether what he now calls 'his team' have any chance of thinking bigger than merely qualifying for the next World Cup.

The Dutch may be surprised to hear that Taylor is not sold on the idea that the loss of their distinguished goalscorer Van Basten alters the situation. Last year in a poll amongst international managers he placed Dennis Bergkamp, Brian Laudrup and Hristo Stoichkov ahead of Van Basten - of 70 national team managers canvassed, only Carlos Queiroz, of Portugal, agreed with him. He reckons that next Wednesday the Dutch will be looking at England and saying, 'Hey, this is a bloody hard game for us.' And he thinks they would still have been worried if Van Basten had been playing.

Taylor draws confidence from the fact that the Netherlands have lost whereas England are unbeaten. 'Can you lose once and qualify? Yes. Can you lose two games? Well if you do you've got to make sure you win the greater part of the others. They may have settled a bit since their wins over Turkey and San Marino, but they could still get to the stage when they ask whether they can even afford a draw. People say we've got our hands full, but I think that if we perform with a belief in ourselves and get about our job they are going to be the ones with their hands full.'

This is England's first consequential test since the present settled side came together. As Taylor has made up his mind that what he has is what he keeps, defeat is not likely to persuade him to make wholesale changes. Nevertheless, to lose would substantially reduce confidence that anything better than World Cup qualification is on the cards.

This is the last match before the difficulties of playing away to Poland and the unbeaten Norway within the space of five days at the end of May and beginning of June. So what will Taylor tell his squad about the Dutch? 'Basically, whoever they include I would be surprised if, as a team, they play in any different way to what we expect. That means they'll have two wingers and a centre-forward and one fellow who comes into the holes. The way we're playing means that we should be able to deal with that; perhaps the inclusion of Waddle would have meant that we would not have been able to, who knows?

'Everyone talks about Van Basten, Koeman, Ruud Gullit and Bergkamp, but Jan Wouters is always the first they put on the list. They've always had organisers on the pitch, players who will say, 'Right I'll go here, you go there,' and Wouters will do that. He will be organising them and he'll end up playing where he thinks he'll be most effective to the team.'

Taylor says that while Marc Overmars is young, quick, available and sharp on the left, Rob Witschge is the mainstay on that side. 'He has a good left foot and is a solid pro. He gives them the balance that in one respect is what I try to get when I pick John Barnes. Otherwise it worries me that we're short of left-footed players to balance us out'.

The news that Koeman is unlikely to play could be a considerable relief to Taylor. Though is lacking in pace, he plays in such a way that to harness him sometimes seems impossible. 'So much starts from him. He doesn't want to come out and defend, doesn't want to come and be caught in one-against- one situations, doesn't want to go in behind people because that worries him, but does he start things off for them. That's why they are going to miss him.'

Of the Dutch tactics, Taylor says: 'They'll have two markers who'll not only mark but break off and become the full-backs. They'll play with three up front with four behind, though one - Bergkamp - will probably go forward. Bergkamp is such an intelligent player. Yet against Turkey he went to play at centre-forward when they took off Peter van Vossen.

'There may be slight alterations to their style of play but I don't think so. Some of the names may be different in one or two positions but I think the formation will be pretty well the same. Gullit will probably play at outside-right. We know he's big and strong and can deliver but we'll give him a hard game. One thing about the Dutch, they don't like to be hustled. We've shown the capability to win the ball back in the middle of the field. Palmer and Ince are underrated, as is Wouters because he's the snapper. We all have to have them.'

Taylor's view that the Dutch are unlikely to change their tactics all that much conflicts with the opinion of their manager, Dick Advocaat, who is trying to get to grips with the problem of replacing the ageing backbone - Rijkaard, Van Basten and Gullit. He dismisses Taylor's theory, saying that changing tactics during a match is something he encourages and sees as a strength of Dutch football. To emphasise the point he says he likes to think of Aron Winter as a useful substitute rather than a definite starter. Winter is one of the players who in Italy this season has regularly upstaged Gascoigne, David Platt and Des Walker, among many others.

Nothing puts England's task into better perspective.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WORLD CUP STANDINGS ----------------------------------------------------------------- GROUP ONE P W D L F A Pts Switzerland. . . . . . . 6 4 2 0 17 4 10 Italy. . . . . . . . . . 6 4 2 0 15 5 10 Scotland. . . . . . . . .4 1 2 1 4 3 4 Portugal. . . . . . . . .4 1 2 1 3 4 4 Estonia. . . . . . . . . 3 0 1 2 0 8 1 Malta. . . . . . . . . . 7 0 1 6 2 17 1 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Top two teams from each group qualify for finals. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Remaining fixtures: 28 Apr: Portugal v Scotland. 1 May: Switzerland v Italy. 12 May: Estonia v Malta. 19 May: Estonia v Scotland. 2 June: Scotland v Estonia. 19 June: Portugal v Malta. 5 Sept: Estonia v Portugal. 8 Sept: Scotland v Switzerland. 22 Sept: Estonia v Italy. 13 Oct: Portugal v Switzerland, Italy v Scotland. 10 Nov: Portugal v Estonia. 17 Nov: Italy v Portugal, Malta v Scotland, Switzerland v Estonia.

----------------------------------------------------------------- GROUP TWO ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Norway. . . . . . . . . .4 3 1 0 15 2 7 England. . . . . . . . . 4 3 1 0 13 1 7 Netherlands. . . . . . . 5 3 1 1 15 6 7 Poland. . . . . . . . . .2 1 1 0 3 2 3 Turkey. . . . . . . . . .7 1 1 5 6 14 3 San Marino. . . . . . . .6 0 1 5 1 28 1 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Remaining fixtures: 28 Apr: England v Netherlands, Norway v Turkey, Poland v San Marino. 19 May: San Marino v Poland. 29 May: Poland v England. 2 June: Norway v England. 9 June: Netherlands v Norway. 8 Sept: England v Poland. 22 Sept: San Marino v Netherlands, Norway v Poland. 13 Oct: Netherlands v England, Poland v Norway. 27 Oct: Turkey v Poland. 10 Nov: Turkey v Norway. * 16 Nov: San Marino v England. 17 Nov: Poland v Netherlands. * May be moved to 17 Nov.

----------------------------------------------------------------- GROUP THREE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Spain. . . . . . . . .7 3 3 1 13 1 9 Denmark. . . . . . . .6 3 3 0 4 0 9 Rep of Ireland. . . . 5 3 2 0 9 0 8 Lithuania. . . . . . .7 2 3 2 8 11 7 N Ireland. . . . . . .6 2 2 2 7 7 6 Latvia. . . . . . . . 8 0 4 4 3 15 4 Albania. . . . . . . .7 1 1 5 4 14 3 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Remaining fixtures: 28 Apr: Republic of Ireland v Denmark, Spain v Northern Ireland. 15 May: Latvia v Albania. 25 May: Lithuania v Northern Ireland. 26 May: Albania v Republic of Ireland. 2 June: Lithuania v Spain, Latvia v Northern Ireland, Denmark v Albania. 9 June: Latvia v Republic of Ireland. 16 June: Lithuania v Republic of Ireland. 25 Aug: Denmark v Lithuania. 8 Sept: Albania v Denmark, Northern Ireland v Latvia, Republic of Ireland v Republic of Lithuania. 22 Sept: Albania v Spain. 13 Oct: Republic of Ireland v Spain, Denmark v Northern Ireland. 17 Nov: Northern Ireland v Republic of Ireland, Spain v Denmark.

----------------------------------------------------------------- GROUP FOUR ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Belgium. . . . . . . . . . . 7 6 0 1 12 3 12 Romania. . . . . . . . . . . 6 4 1 1 19 3 9 Wales. . . . . . . . . . . . 5 3 0 2 10 7 6 RCS. . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 1 2 1 7 4 4 Cyprus. . . . . . . . . . . .7 1 1 5 5 12 3 Faroe Islands. . . . . . . . 5 0 0 5 0 22 0 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Remaining fixtures: Today: Cyprus v Faroe Islands. 28 Apr: Representation of Czechs and Slovaks v Wales. 22 May: Belgium v Faroe Islands. 2 June: RCS v Romania. 6 June: Faroe Islands v Wales. 16 June: Faroe Islands v RCS. 8 Sept: Wales v RCS, Faroe Islands v Romania. 13 Oct: Romania v Belgium, Wales v Cyprus. 27 Oct: RCS v Cyprus. 17 Nov: Wales v Romania, Belgium v RCS.

(Photograph omitted)

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