This match must certainly be considered as one of the biggest games in Group E of the Euro 2012 qualifying tournament. With 9 points from four matches, the Hungarians are ranked second behind the runners up of the last World Cup, Holland, who have won all four qualifying matches so far. Sweden is also in contention for direct qualification, with 6 points from three matches, having lost 4-1 in Holland, but having beaten Hungary 2-0.
This preview will look at Bert van Marwijk’s present national team selection, go over some tactical issues for both teams and give a short summary of the tactical aspect of the game that will be played on Friday, March 25.
Dutch team selection
Goalkeepers: Michel Vorm (Utrecht), Sander Boschker (Twente), Jelle ten Rouwelaar (NAC)
The major absentee here is of course Ajax goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg who suffers from a fractured thumb and will miss out until the end of the season. Twenty-seven year old Michel Vorm is expected to start as his replacement, adding to his five international appearances.
Defense: Van der Wiel (Ajax), Pieters (PSV), Heitinga (Everton), Mathijsen (HSV), Boulahrouz (Stuttgart), Vlaar (Feyenoord), Emanuelson (Milan)
Expect Van Marwijk to stick to his regular centre-back duo Heitinga-Mathijsen. The two of them have combined for all but one of Holland’s seven World Cup matches, with Mathijsen forced to miss the Brazil game due to injury. Van Marwijk consequently plays Heitinga as a centre-back, despite the fact that Everton manager Moyes regularly uses him as a defensive midfield with specific man-marking tasks.
While Van der Wiel has been Holland’s right-back for quite some time now, the left-back position had been up for grabs after Van Bronckhorst’s retirement after the World Cup final. Erik Pieters will now have to be considered the main candidate here, with main rival Vurnon Anita having been re-transformed to a holding midfield role in recent times and outside rival Royston Drenthe not starting regularly after falling out with his loan-club Hercules.
Midfield: Nigel de Jong (Man City), Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham), Wesley Sneijder (Inter), Mark van Bommel (Milan), Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Strootman (Utrecht), Schaars (AZ)
Most interesting here would have been to see the developments regarding the two holding midfielder spots behind Wesley Sneijder, who is by all means the man-in-the-hole for Holland. If not for the injury that keeps Van Bommel sidelined for the first meeting with Hungary, Van Marwijk would have been forced to choose from the three of Van Bommel, Van der Vaart and De Jong. The World Cup duo Van Bommel / De Jong have started the first two Euro 2012 qualification matches, until Van Marwijk punished De Jong for his leg-breaking tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa in October.
Interestingly enough, this De Jong replacement meant an important shift in playing style, changing from the classic two holding midfielder style of the World Cup to a single true holding midfielder (Van Bommel) beside a classic deep-lying playmaker (Van der Vaart). This change was more than just a subtle midfield alteration, it was seen by some as Van Marwijk’s reply to the allegations of ‘destructive football’ at the World Cup. In that sense it would have been very interesting to see whether he would return to the successful, yet destructive World Cup duo Van Bommel / De Jong, go with Van der Vaart as a deep-lying playmaker beside the aging Van Bommel or combine De Jong and Van der Vaart, a novelty for the Dutch national team.
Attack: Dirk Kuijt (Liverpool), Jeremain Lens (PSV), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Eljero Elia and Ruud van Nistelrooy (HSV), Luuk de Jong (Twente)
Robin van Persie will make his first start for Holland since the World Cup final. In the six matches (friendlies against Austria and Turkey and the four Euro 2012 qualifiers) Holland has played since, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has scored no less than ten goals, but he is out with a knee injury, saving Van Marwijk from having to make another important and interesting choice.
Expect Dirk Kuijt to start on one of the wings, as Van Marwijk favors his work rate to balance with the offensive input from the contralateral winger. With Robben out injured, Van Marwijk might start Kuijt on the right wing, playing pacy Eljero Elia from the left wing, but he hasn’t played all that regularly at HSV in recent weeks. But given the fact that Ibrahim Afellay has started three of the four previous Euro 2012 qualifiers as well as the two friendlies, a start for the Barcelona player might be more likely. His contribution in recent Holland matches merits a starting place too.
The Hungarian selection
The most important absentee in Hungary’s squad for this match is certainly their striker Adam Szalai. The Mainz hit man is sidelined with a ligament injury that will keep him out until the end of the season, his likely replacement being Bari striker Gergely Rudolf, who scored three goals, featuring regularly for Italian Serie A club Bari. This would probably move another Serie A player into the starting line-up as 22-year old Vladimir Koman, a regular for struggling Sampdoria seems the most likely candidate to move to the offensive midfield spot vacated by Rudolf moving to the striker position.
Expect more Hungary firepower on the wings with the experience of Zoltan Gera (68 caps) and the technical skills and goal scoring ability of Balasz Dszudszak, the PSV winger, who is a well-known face for the Dutch. In defensive midfield Hungary will field Akos Elek, a young talent still playing for Videoton in his home country, probably with Krisztian Vadocz of Osasuna, or Videoton’s Peter Czvitkovics beside him.
Hungary’s back four will not feature right-back Krisztian Vermes, who played in the Eredivisie for Saprta in the 2008/09 season, but rather Pal Lazar, who played the Sweden and Moldova matches. At left-back Zsolt Laczko, a winter signing for Sampdoria will feature and at centre-back it will be Zoltan Liptak and Roland Juhász, the latter familiar form Ajax’ double Europa League victory over Anderlecht.
With both teams playing 4-2-3-1 variants, we can expect a fairly balanced game in tactical terms. Of particular interest will be the Van der Wiel – Dsuzdsak match-up at the right wing of Holland’s defense. While Van der Wiel plays his best games when allowed an offensive role on the right flank, he will have to keep a firm eye on Dszudszak, who might be considered Hungary’s main offensive threat. Both Nigel de Jong, playing as the holding midfielder on that side of the pitch, and right-sided centre-back Heitinga will have to make sure to assist Van der Wiel in his defensive duties. This might leave Rudolf mostly at the hands of Mathijsen and it will be interesting to see the Dutch defense adapting to Hungary’s front movement here.
In offensive terms, expect Sneijder, as always, to drift to the left side of the pitch, in search of space he won’t find in the central area occupied by two opposing holding midfielders. This should make a powerful triangle, linking up with the technical qualities of both Van der Vaart and Afellay (if starting) on that wing. It will be interesting to see what role Gera will take up here. Will he position himself in a more central, defensive position to frustrate this potential dangerous Dutch connection? This would allow more space for Pieters, either to assist in defense or make forward runs.
It may sound as a cliché, but Hungary is definitely an opponent that Holland shouldn’t underestimate. Taking this away match too lightly might see Van Marwijk and his team pay in terms of losing their incredible run of results. Since his debut as manager of the Dutch national team on August 20, 2008, he has managed to win all but one of his 19 competitive matches.
That one being a World Cup final…