France remain wary of the wounded Dutch
France v Netherlands Anfield Tonight, 6.30
Saturday 22 June 1996
There is no great shame in losing to a host nation in any major tournament, but rarely have a team of the Dutch's reputation been dismantled like they were by England at Wembley. They have to reassemble morale and confidence against France at Anfield tonight and try to make amends. After all, rout or not, they are only two matches away from the final.
Paradoxically their 4-1 defeat might have reinforced their chances of returning to the scene of Tuesday's crime on 30 June. Had they beaten England, they would be heading towards a semi-final with the team no one wants to meet, Berti Vogts' Germany. Now they will stand in the way of the Vogts wagon only if they get to the final and they can hope that Croatia, England or Spain will have de-wheeled it before then.
Indeed England's demolition might prove cathartic. Riven with dissent over Edgar Davids' banishment, they know unless they start pulling in the same direction they will be out.
And if it makes up Guus Hiddink's mind they will be doubly blessed. The Dutch coach has been tinkering like a mechanic on an engine, only his work has made the running more ragged. Clarence Seedorf's zest is surely required in midfield in the absence of Davids while Dennis Bergkamp's creativity is stifled when he is not playing behind another striker.
At least the Dutch are returning to a ground that holds positive memories as Anfield hosted the qualification decider between themselves and the Republic of Ireland, a match which hoisted the Netherlands to the position of favourites for Euro 96. "We are just happy to be in the last eight and not on our way home," Richard Witschge said. "Hopefully, we will find the spark we had for our last game at Anfield."
They can take heart, too, from Denmark four years ago. The Danes lost to the hosts, Sweden, in a group match and failed to score in their first two matches but astonished everyone by winning the title.
Aime Jacquet's French team are unbeaten for 26 games and, with no injuries or suspensions, will start with greater confidence than their opponents. Their recent record against the Dutch is good, with three wins and a draw in the last four games.
Not that the French coach has unreserved support. At Newcastle on Tuesday a banner read: "Sack Jacquet. We need Cantona." A win tonight and even Eric's absence might be forgiven.
The Dutch, says Jacquet, "came very close to catastrophe" against England and he expects them to be mentally damaged. "Between two top-level teams, conceding three goals is a big blow and letting in four much more so," he said. "They will be wounded psychologically. But players have their pride - they will want to remedy it against us."
FRANCE (probable): Lama; Lizarazu, Blanc, Desailly, Thuram, Zidane, Guerin, Deschamps, Karembeu, Dugarry, Djorkaeff.
NETHERLANDS (probable): Van der Sar; Reiziger, Blind, Bogarde, Winter, R De Boer, Seedorf, Witschge, Cruyff, Kluivert, Bergkamp.
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