England to face Netherlands in Nations League semi-finals

• Gareth Southgate’s side to face Dutch in Guimãraes on 6 June
• Portugal and Switzerland meet in Porto in other semi-final

England will face the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the Nations League next summer, an encounter that will trigger nostalgia and, both coaches hope, should offer pointers to successful futures.

Gareth Southgate describes the 4-1 defeat of the Dutch at Euro 96 one of his “best days in football”, while Ronald Koeman played a major role in stopping the English from reaching the 1994 World Cup in a qualifying group game where he scored and, controversially, avoided being sent off.

As coaches, both share a mutual respect for each other’s methods and will have a chance to test their developing sides against one another in the Portuguese city of Guimarães on 6 June, 2019.

“There are a lot of similarities between teams,” said Southgate, “with young players coming through who are going to grow as a team, coupled with some outstanding more senior players already in the Premier League. I often see Ronald at matches and we chat a lot. It’s two teams who will play similarly and it’s a really good game to look forward to.”

Koeman offered a similar appraisal. “Without making him blush too much, I like the way Gareth has managed this side,” he said. “He has given confidence and opportunities to young players and it’s the same way we like to do it in Holland. Young talent is the future for every football team. It’s a big opportunity for us to show that we are in a good way and I’m looking forward to playing England.”

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The Nations League offers England the first chance of a trophy since the World Cup and while the new trophy – a platinum swirl inlaid with multiple bright colours – does not carry quite the same prestige as last summer’s competition, Southgate insisted the importance of winning should never be underestimated.

“You don’t get many opportunities at international level to actually win something, and we are trying to develop a winning mentality,” he said. “We’ve done that with our younger teams and we are now trying to build that with the senior players. This would be a step in the right direction, and start to knock down the barriers that remain.”

The semi-final will be England’s first competitive encounter with the Dutch since that victory at Euro 96, and Southgate – who played as centre-half that day – hopes to continue channelling the spirit of that tournament.

“It was brilliant – one of my best days in football, no question,” he said. “Very often when you think about those moments all the colours are very vivid in your mind. The orange that their fans add to the stadium and the sunny, warm evening, the atmosphere and the quality of the game.

“They had some outstanding players and we had one of our best performances, really. So it was a brilliant night to be involved in, one that has been talked about over the past couple of decades. I am sure the quality of the match in the summer will be of a very high level as well.”

One problem that both sides are likely to face, however, is the scheduling of the match itself. England and the Netherlands will play in the second semi-final of the Nations League, with Portugal facing Switzerland in Porto the day before.

But with the Champions League final taking place in Madrid on 1 June, and the Europa League final just three days before that, Southgate believes it is unlikely he will be able to offer his squad much in the way of pre-match preparation.

“We now know the next 12 months and that’s good for us in terms of planning,” said Southgate. “It’s also a strange six months in that we’ve got that time to plan for a semi-final. And potentially we might not get some of the players until two days before it.

“I don’t see a pre-match get-together as realistic because everybody’s individual club schedules will be so packed. We have March, of course [when England will play Euro 2020 qualifiers], which is important, but I fully expect quite a few of our teams to be involved in European competitions close to the end and the FA Cup as well. Whenever I’ve looked at that in the past it’s just impossible to do something meaningful and worthwhile.”

The final of the Nations League will be played in Porto on Sunday 9 June, with a third place play-off taking place on the same day in Guimarães.


Paul MacInnes in Dublin

The GuardianTramp

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