Netherlands – France: Fantastic France Book Their Euro 2024 Berth (1-2)

The two favorites in Group B of the Euro 2024 qualifiers faced off in a key match past the midway stage of their campaign. The Netherlands had to win to be sure of holding on to second place in the group, but France had other ideas as they took the chance to seal their spot in the tournament proper with a comfortable win.

Tactical analysis and match report by Neel Shelat.

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Ronald Koeman’s return to the national team job certainly was not all plain sailing, especially due to a terrible start courtesy of a four-goal thrashing dished out by France. They also lost both of their matches in the Nations League finals, although those will never be worth losing too much sleep over. Failing to qualify for the Euros, though, could cost a lot more than that, so this was perhaps the most crucial match of his short second stint so far as his side had to win to stay ahead of Greece.

France, meanwhile, continued to enjoy smooth sailing thanks to the abundance of talent at their disposal and Didier Deschamps’ pragmatic usage of it. They had a perfect record after their first five matches meaning progression was all but guaranteed, but they had the chance to make it a mathematical fact with a result here.

The Netherlands seemed to line up in a 3-5-2 formation, featuring Bart Verbruggen in goal behind Lutshaarel Geertruida, Virgil van Dijk and Nathan Aké. Denzel Dumfries and Quilindschy Hartman manned the wings with Tijani Reijnders, Marten de Roon and Joey Veerman in midfield, whilst Xavi Simons looked set to operate off Wout Weghorst up front.

France sprung no surprises in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation with Mike Maignan between the sticks behind Jonathan Clauss, Ibrahima Konaté, Lucas Hernández and his brother Theo Hernández. Adrien Rabiot partnered Aurélien Tchouam Aurélien Tchouaméni in midfield, whilst Kingsley Coman, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé and Randal Kolo Muani made up the attack.

France quickly pull apart the Netherlands’ player-oriented block

As it turned out, the Netherlands used more of a 5-4-1 shape out of possession with Reijnders wide on the right mirrored by Simons on the left. Their block was set up to be quite player-oriented, though that did not seem the wisest decision against this French side.

As usual, France operated in more of a 4-3-3-like structure in possession as Rabiot shuttled up and down on the left Griezmann shuffled out towards the right and Tchouaméni held everything together as the number six. The Netherlands’ attempt at a player-oriented setup did not seem to acknowledge this a great deal, as they looked to use their midfielders to mark their opposite numbers with Veerman stepping up to Tchouaméni, Reijnders tracking Rabiot and De Roon on Griezmann.

One of the bigger issues in this setup was in the back line, from where Dumfries was allowed to step up to be in range of Theo Hernández, leaving Geertruida alone to deal with Mbappé. Worse yet, Van Dijk was occupied with Kolo Muani and Hartman kept an eye on Coman, so left-sided center-back Aké was the free player – but he could not go out to the right to support Geertruida.

3rd minute: The Netherlands’ player-oriented medium block against France.

It was not long before France started posing serious problems to this block. They quickly recognized the player-oriented approach and began to use lots of rotations and positional interchanges, particularly on the wings where the fullbacks were free to push up in the opposition half. They scored their opener in the seventh minute after some nice combination play between Coman, Clauss and Griezmann, resulting in the Marseille fullback finding Mbappé with a pinpoint cross.

France’s 4-4-2 block stifles the Netherlands

The Netherlands were hardly any better in possession, as France’s simple 4-4-2 block kept them at bay quite comfortably for most of the match. They tried to build out in an asymmetric 3-4-2-2 structure with Van Dijk and Aké on either side of the keeper, Geertruida and Hartman on either side of a deep double pivot, Reijnders and Simons looking to operate between the opposition lines and Dumfries high and wide on the right as he tends to be for his club side Inter.

This was all well and good in theory but proved quite dysfunctional in practice. The main problem was simply an inability to consistently progress the ball and access the attackers, partly due to the double pivot starting so deep that it often effectively became a part of the back line and could not really connect the side. So, most of their possession (especially in the first half) was spent passing around the back before losing it with an attempted forward pass.

So, not only was the Dutch defensive setup poor, but they hardly managed to get anything going for themselves when they had the ball too. Even though the statistics did not look so bad and they were only one goal down at the break, their first half performance was quite dismal given the circumstances.

Mbappé magic gives France a much-needed cushion

Having someone like Mbappé in your team is a bit of a cheat code. You see, whilst most other teams have to worry about high-quality chance creation and the like, a team with a player of his talents can simply get the ball to him in the final third and ask him to take it from there, and he will deliver on a consistent basis. So, France can look very dangerous even in matches where they do not create too many great chances. Of course, their other attackers are not too bad either.

This was one such match where their chance quality on paper was not so high. However, the Netherlands’ attempt at player-marking Mbappé with just one defender was only ever going to end one way, so what happened eight minutes into the second half was simply inevitable. Mbappé received the ball out wide on the left, fizzed it to the feet of Rabiot and moved to receive the layoff, before deciding to caress it into the far top corner first-time and doing just that.

This proved to be an important second goal for France as the Netherlands were able to generate some attacking momentum in the last quarter of an hour of the match following substitutions and started looking somewhat threatening. Hartman was able to pull one back for them in the 83rd minute, but that proved to be too little and too late.


This was yet another dismal Dutch performance against France – not much better than their 4-0 defeat in the opening round of fixtures even if the scorelines might suggest otherwise. Their tactics were clearly wide of the mark again in almost all aspects, so it is tough to blame the players too much for what transpired on the pitch because they were almost set up to fail in some regards – or at least Geertruida was by being asked to individually player-mark Mbappé. They have now lost second spot in the group to Greece, whom they will visit next for a crunch clash for both teams’ qualifying campaigns.

France have no such thing to worry about anymore – not that they were ever really worried at any stage of this qualifying campaign. They have sealed progression with a perfect record of six wins from six, and look just as formidable as they have done for the last few years. Deschamps has not changed the formula because he simply does not need to, so France should be considered among the favorites for the upcoming Euros yet again.

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