LONDON: A rising power in European football meets a fading force this Friday (Saturday in Manila) as Wales begin their Euro 2016 preparations against a Netherlands team still reeling from their failure to qualify.
While Wales are looking forward to their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, the Netherlands will spend next summer kicking their heels after missing out on a place in France just 15 months on from a stunning third-place finish at last year’s World Cup in Brazil.
When the teams last met, Holland winning 2-0 in Amsterdam in June 2014, it was the Dutch who were using the match to tune up for a major tournament, and Wales defender Ben Davies is thrilled that the boot is now on the other foot.
“We were a preparation game for them last time and now it’s their turn,” the Tottenham Hotspur left-back said this week.
“But it’s still a good test for us, even though they didn’t qualify. They’ve got some very good players we have to be aware of and they’ll be out to prove a point that they’re not the team everybody is saying they are.”
Wales have lost just one of the 10 games they have played since that encounter in Amsterdam, but the one defeat, away to Bosnia-Herzegovina last month, fell on the night that their qualification was confirmed.
June’s 1-0 win over Belgium demonstrated their ability to compete with the sport’s heavyweights and Chris Coleman’s side finished their qualifying campaign having conceded only four goals.
But they will take on the Dutch in Friday’s friendly at the Cardiff City Stadium bereft of their two star players, as Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale and Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who between them scored nine of their 11 goals in qualifying, have both been ruled out by injury.
With Reading forward Hal Robson-Kanu also sidelined, Burnley’s Sam Vokes is in line to start up front if he can overcome a groin complaint.
Coleman’s opposite number Danny Blind marked a break from the past when he named his squad by omitting 32-year-old Fenerbahce striker Robin van Persie, whose own goal against the Czech Republic condemned the Netherlands to a miserable 3-2 defeat in their final qualifying match.
Blind also omitted Memphis Depay from his provisional squad in light of the winger’s slow start to life at Manchester United following his transfer from PSV Eindhoven, only to perform a U-turn and bring the 21-year-old back into the fold.
Blind, whose side also face Germany in Hannover on Tuesday, had accused Depay of playing selfishly, but the winger said matters had been resolved during a “positive chat” between the pair.
Having failed to qualify for the European Championship for the first time since 1984, Holland face 10 months without a competitive fixture before qualifying for the 2018 World Cup begins next September.
But for Wesley Sneijder, the meeting with Wales brings with it an opportunity for renewal.
“It’s time to make a new start,” the Galatasaray playmaker told public broadcaster NOS.
“We’re not going to beat Wales 10-0, but we have to ensure that we get a good result.
“It doesn’t help thinking ‘We’re the Dutch 11′ of old. That time has passed. Quality-wise, we’re not among the top teams in the world anymore, I would say for a few years now.
“That’s why we have to fight from the moment we walk onto the field and realize that achievement doesn’t come naturally.”