Last updated & checked: 10/08/2021
Northern Ireland won their first four games in qualifying for Euro 2020, which certainly increased their chances of securing a place in the finals next summer, but meant the job was less than half done. The reason for this? Well, their eight games in Group C were split, unequally, into a first half where they faced Estonia and Belarus home and away (all very winnable games), and a second section where they would do the same against Germany and Holland.
Tonight is the second game of that second half, and the first game came last month against Germany in Belfast. Having lost that game 2-0, “Norn Iron” now need to pick up something in Rotterdam to retain any realistic hope of progressing to the finals without relying on a Nations League wild-card spot. The bad news for Michael O’Neill is that, under his counterpart Ronald Koeman, the Dutch are looking better than they have for years, and picked up a 4-2 win in Hamburg last month.
Netherlands vs Northern Ireland Prediction: Netherlands 2-0 Northern Ireland
Had this match taken place two or three years ago, Northern Ireland could have had realistic hopes to pick up at least a point against a Dutch side which has in its last two qualifying campaigns lost matches to Turkey, Bulgaria and home and away against Iceland. The current Oranje side appears to be built out of sterner stuff, however, and will start this match as comfortable favourites. Northern Ireland will arrive at the De Kuyp hoping they can contain their illustrious opponents here; they might do that for a while, but it’s hard to see them emerging with anything from the 90 minutes.
Our recommended tip: Netherlands win to nil
If the David Healy of the mid-noughties could be grafted on to the Northern Ireland team of the present day, you’d have a very dangerous side; O’Neill has created a very organised unit that is hard to break down. The problem is, it finds it even harder to break down its opponents. Lacking a genuine creative midfielder or a reliable poacher, the very last thing Northern Ireland would want is to come up against a defence containing Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt. Betfred have the hosts at ¾ for a win with “No” on Both Teams To Score – and that seems like a very sound bet.
With these two countries sharing a continent, you’d expect that they’d have met here and there in qualifying campaigns. However, the last time NI came to the Netherlands for a competitive game, it was 1976 the team sheets featured George Best and Johan Cruyff. Northern Ireland scored after four minutes, and again on 88, as they pulled off an impresssive 2-2 draw with a Dutch side that was in between two World Cup final appearances. The only time the sides have met in the last 40 years was in a 2012 friendly in Amsterdam, which the home side won 6-0. Tonight’s match will probably be somewhere in between the aforementioned results.
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Players to watch: Donyell Malen & Bailey Peacock-Farrell
Along with more experienced hands Ryan Babel and Memphis Depay, the Dutch attack tonight will likely feature Malen, a winger whose scintillating form for PSV has drawn widespread attention from top clubs. His pace and dribbling ability make him a constant threat, and a crucial goal on his international debut against Germany showed that he’s not overawed by the big occasion. If Northern Ireland’s defensive approach is overly-focused on Babel and Depay, the 20-year-old forward will make them pay.
Peacock-Farrell’s move to Burnley saw him added to the Clarets’ stockpile of extremely gifted goalkeepers, and the Darlington-born stopper has recently revealed that he was approached by FA representatives about changing his international allegiance to England. Since then, the former Leeds man has started – and performed impressively – in a full international against Germany, and he will need to match that level of performance here tonight if Northern Ireland are to get anything from the game.