June 13 – Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk has dismissed fitness concerns ahead of the Nations League final four as the Dutch go in search of a first international prize since Euro 88.
On Saturday, Nathan Aké won the Champions League with Manchester City, the culmination of a club season that was split in two by the first-ever winter World Cup in Qatar, but Van Dijk, who plies his trade for Liverpool, played down fitness concerns before the Netherlands’s semi-final with Croatia on Wednesday in Rotterdam.
“It can be tricky,” said Van Dijk at a news conference. “In our case, almost ten boys, have already experienced the final. We didn’t feel like we were playing for a cup back then. Now, it is more alive, which may make the energy easier to create. In terms of training and level, it has been very high in recent days.”
In 2019, the Netherlands reached the final of the maiden edition of the Nations League but lost to Cristiano Ronaldo and co.
“After the lost final against Portugal, we realised that we should have done better,” reflected Van Dijk. “It was the first edition, you didn’t really know how or what. Now the feeling is definitely there. I’d like to lift that cup, but we’re not in the process of doing that yet. Croatia is a tough team to beat.”
The third edition of the UEFA Nations League offers the Dutch a chance to make amends for that defeat and, more importantly, to claim silverware for the first time since Euro 88 when current manager Ronald Koeman featured in the team that defeated the USSR 2-0 in the final with a Marco Van Basten strike for the ages.
“There is always pressure with a national team,” said Koeman. “We can win a prize, in our own country, although I understand that there will be many Croatian fans as well. We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. There are four strong countries and there will be little difference.”
“We have to be very good against a strong Croatian team. They have been playing in the same formation for years and they are winners. If we show it in terms of mentality, we have a good chance. You have to do everything for every prize that you can win. If you don’t win it, players will think later: it was a great pity that we didn’t win.”
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