David Platt will tonight warn his England Under-21 side to avoid becoming embroiled in a kicking match as they set out to clinch a place in next May's European Under-21 Championship finals.
Platt's intention would scarcely have been noteworthy but for the fact that England's opponents at Derby in the second leg of their play-off tie are the Netherlands. Despite their reputation for Total Football, from Cruyff and Neeskens to Van Basten, Gullit and beyond, the performance of certain Jong Oranje players in Friday's 2-2 draw in Utrecht was a reminder that, as a sagacious press-box veteran once quipped, the Dutch invented the clog.
"I've watched the video of the first leg and saw things that were naughty," Platt said yesterday. "Though we had lumps kicked out of us, we'll keep our discipline and finish up with 11 men on the park, which is vitally important."
Platt expected a tough game but was taken aback by the ferocity of the Dutch tackling. "Perhaps they caught us by surprise because the friendly at Reading when we beat them 4-0 in August wasn't physical in any way. The pleasing thing was that we continued to play our football and more or less dominated the second half."
England are likely to be unchanged for a contest which could see the "house full" signs posted at Pride Park. The continued absence through injury of Aston Villa's Darius Vassell means the host club's striker Malcolm Christie will again link with Jermain Defoe, provided he passes a late fitness test.
The wider focus, however, will once more be on the captain, Blackburn's David Dunn. Sven Goran Eriksson, the England coach, suggested after the 1-1 draw with Sweden on Saturday that Dunn was in his thoughts for the February friendly with the Dutch seniors, and Platt confirmed that the 21-year-old midfielder is ready.
The only doubt centres on whether the right-footed Dunn should be utilised on the left, a role Trevor Sinclair became the latest to occupy unconvincingly at Old Trafford. Platt said Dunn had the "ability and attitude" to thrive in that position, which he will fill tonight, but reiterated that both he and the player see his long-term future in the centre.
"David's not a left-winger, any more than David Beckham is a right-winger, but maybe he's got more chance of getting into Sven's squad there. I've said before that if Ryan Giggs was English, he'd have that position buttoned down."
In the first meeting, Dunn slalomed through the Netherlands' defence before scoring a goal redolent of his early role model, Paul Gascoigne, to complete England's fightback from 2-0 down. The wiles of Ajax's Rafael van der Vaart looked briefly to have England rattled, but Platt was delighted that they neither panicked nor lost heart.
"Being two down and with the Dutch players and crowd cock-a-hoop, I just wanted to get them in the dressing-room and talk to them. But they rallied themselves as if to say: 'This is the way we've been asked to play, and this is how we're going to play'. We got one back on the stroke of half-time and that made it very easy for me to speak to them.
"They came in and were saying the kind of things I'd have said. I don't know the players too well yet, but they showed me they have the character not to go under." Tonight, though a 0-0 draw would take England through on away goals, they must also demonstrate the class and composure to finish the job.
ENGLAND UNDER-21 (4-4-2; probable): Kirkland (Liverpool); Young (Charlton), Terry (Chelsea), King (Tottenham), Bridge (Southampton); Pennant (Arsenal), Carrick (West Ham), Davis (Fulham), Dunn (Blackburn); Christie (Derby), Defoe (West Ham).
NETHERLANDS UNDER-21 (4-5-1; probable): Ten Rouwelaar (Emmen); Mendes (Sparta Rotterdam), Van Nieuwstadt (Willem II Tilburg), Knol (Vitesse Arnhem), Bosschaart (Utrecht); Van der Meyde (Ajax), Hersi (NAC Breda), Ax (NEC Nijmegen), Van der Schaaf (Vitesse Arnhem), Van der Vaart (Ajax); Kuijt (Utrecht).Reuse content