Personal tragedy reinforces unity of the Dutch

Netherlands v Russia: Today, 19.45, Basle, ITV1

The Netherlands have played the most joyful football of Euro 2008; yesterday they were confronted with a sadness that renders all that talk of glory and trophies redundant. Khalid Boulahrouz's wife, Sabia, who was in Switzerland supporting her husband, gave birth, prematurely, to a daughter who died. The player has said he is available for tonight's quarter-final against Russia.

Boulahrouz was a full-back who deputised at centre-half without much success in either position during his time at Chelsea in the 2006-07 season but he has become emblematic of the new spirit within Marco van Basten's national squad. He insisted that he was in a fit state to play and that his wife supported his decision. The sadness that the couple have gone through has touched the players and the Dutch fans as well, making their progress at Euro 2008 just that little bit more poignant.

A group of the Dutch players, concerned that Boulahrouz and his wife were suffering away from home, came to visit them in hospital to offer their support. Van Basten came to see them, too. As well as the loss the couple have suffered, the Dutch public have been struck by the togetherness of a national squad which has, in previous tournaments, been anything but united. Tonight they face Guus Hiddink's Russia in Basle with a greater esprit de corps than any of their predecessors.

The pressure of facing Hiddink, who led the Netherlands to the 1998 World Cup semi-finals and repeated the feat four years later with South Korea, is not lost on the Dutch and there were some feisty exchanges at his press conference yesterday. However, the Netherlands go into tonight's game with a much greater sense of unity than was achieved in 1998, when Hiddink sent Edgar Davids home after a spectacular public fall-out. Van Basten has achieved what many thought was impossible.

True, the football is fantastic and any international manager who can afford to start games with Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie on the substitutes' bench is blessed indeed, but Van Basten is reaping the benefits of decisions he made before the tournament. Clarence Seedorf was not content with a substitute's role, so he was left behind. Mark van Bommel, who has never seen eye-to-eye with Van Basten, was also judged to be surplus to requirements.

Van Basten and Hiddink are both expected to start with their usual first-choice line-ups – in the Netherlands' case that is the team that started their second group game, the 4-1 win against France. Russia should be unchanged from the team that began the 2-0 win over Sweden, their last group fixture.

The Russia coach found himself in conflict with Dutch reporters yesterday when it was put to him that coaching a team against his native country was "traitorous". Hiddink responded by sarcastically suggesting that he was his country's "biggest traitor" just because he would sing the Russian national anthem tonight.

"The only thing that worries me is that the Dutch team will have had five days more rest than us," Hiddink said. "That is not insignificant. But can we beat them? Why not? I am really blown away by the rapid progress that the team has made, given it has been put together only recently.

"My players are impressive in their capacity to listen and to understand. They also possess a lot of qualities in terms of speed and creativity."

Netherlands (probable , 4-2-3-1): Van der Sar (Manchester United); Boulahrouz (Hamburg), Ooijer (Blackburn), Mathijsen (Hamburg), Van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord); De Jong (Hamburg), Engelaar (Twente); Kuyt (Liverpool) Van der Vaart (Hamburg), Sneijder (Real Madrid); Van Nistelrooy (Real Madrid).

Russia (probable, 4-1-3-1-1): Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow); Anyukov (Zenit St Petersburg), Kolodin (Dynamo Moscow), Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Zhirkov (CSKA Moscow); Semak (Rubin Kazan); Zyryanov (Zenit St Petersburg), Semshov (Dynamo Moscow), Bilyaletdinov (Locomotiv Moscow); Arshavin (Zenit St Petersburg); Pavlyuchenko (Spartak Moscow).

Referee: L Michel (Slovakia).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Wes Brown is sent-off
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review