Louis van Gaal has returned to football management after being named as the new head coach of the Netherlands.

The 69-year-old, who announced his retirement in 2019, is back for a third spell in charge of the national team as their World Cup qualifying campaign prepares to resume next month.

His first appointment since leaving Manchester United back in 2016, he takes over following the departure of Frank de Boer, who stepped down after the Netherlands' last-16 exit from Euro 2020.

Van Gaal, who will be assisted by Danny Blind and Henk Fraser with Frans Hoek serving as goalkeeping coach, was first in charge between 2000 and 2002 but stepped down after failing to secure qualification for the World Cup.

He returned for a second stint in 2012, guiding his nation to third place at the World Cup in Brazil two years later before departing for Old Trafford.

Van Gaal's first match back in charge sees the Dutch travel to Norway on September 1 in a World Cup qualifier.

Currently second in Group G with six points from three matches, the Netherlands then play back-to-back home games against Montenegro and table-topping Turkey.

Van Gaal said: "Dutch football has always been close to my heart and the national coach is, in my opinion, a key position for moving our football forward. 

"Moreover, I consider it an honour to coach the Dutch national team. There is little time until the next qualifiers, which are immediately crucial for participation in the World Cup. 

"The focus is, therefore, 100 per cent on the players and the approach. After all, that's what I'm assigned to do. It's good to be back. 

"I have already spoken to a number of players and together with the KNVB (the Dutch Football Association), the technical staff has been assembled. I'm really looking forward to getting the job done together."

Nico-Jan Hoogma, KNVB director, added: "In the coming months, we will be tasked with qualifying for the World Cup. For this, we have a minimum preparation period. 

"In view of this job, we were looking for a coach with exceptional qualities, who can also anticipate quickly. 

"With his experience and track record at the highest level, we have that coach in our eyes with Louis van Gaal. The contact was made quickly and we have spoken many times since then. 

"In the last few days, we have been able to carefully put the finishing touches together. We are happy that Louis is taking on this job."

 

A league winner in three different countries, having secured domestic titles while at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Van Gaal has enjoyed a hugely successful managerial career.

He also won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995, then guided Bayern to the final 15 years later.

Van Gaal won 27 of the 44 games he oversaw during his first two spells with the Netherlands, drawing 13 and losing just four.

Italy and Argentina can prepare for the 2022 World Cup full of confidence after continental triumphs in the European Championship and Copa America.

The Azzurri have recovered in spectacular fashion from failing to qualify for Russia 2018, while Lionel Messi finally has an international honour to shout about.

Those teams were not alone in taking encouragement from this year's major international tournaments, but other potential Qatar contenders were not quite so impressive.

While some sides could reasonably point to mitigating factors – Belgium's injuries, Germany's final campaign under Joachim Low – plenty of big names underwhelmed.

With the World Cup finals, now just 16 months away, the next big target on the horizon, Stats Perform assesses which teams have put themselves in a better or worse position to challenge.

FULL OF HOPE...

Italy

Italy might have missed the previous World Cup after an awful qualifying campaign but, barring another such mishap, will enter the next tournament as defending European champions, and the Azzurri have in the past tended to perform better on the world stage than in the Euros, this their second continental championship to go alongside four global triumphs.

The only question mark against Roberto Mancini's side heading into Euro 2020 on a long unbeaten run was how they might fare against top teams, having largely avoided facing elite opposition since their most recent defeat to Portugal in September 2018. They then eliminated Belgium, Spain and England in succession to take the title and extend their stunning streak to 34 matches without a loss.

 

Only in the centre of defence, with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, are Italy really ageing, and even then a swift turnaround could see the pair go again, having trailed for only 109 minutes of their undefeated stretch – 65 of those coming in the final against England.

Argentina

Argentina had been without a major honour since 1993, losing four Copa America finals and one World Cup decider since then. Messi had been involved in four of those five disappointments, but his and his country's fortunes finally changed for the better against Brazil.

The world's finest free agent was the obvious difference-maker, even if he did not score or create a goal in the 2021 final. Messi's goal involvements across the campaign improved from two in 2019 to a leading nine. He also created more chances (3.0, up from 2.0) and attempted more shots (4.0, up from 3.1) per 90 minutes.

But Messi also benefited from Argentina's sturdier foundations. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez – a debutant last month – was a breakout star, with the defence in front of him limiting chances as La Albiceleste conceded only three goals, half as many as in more matches in two years earlier.

England

Qatar 2022 will feel a long way away right now for England, who were so close yet so far from glory at Wembley. It ended in disappointment, but just making a first major tournament final in 55 years can only be counted as a success.

And the Three Lions have now proven they can now regularly contend; having reached the semi-finals at the previous World Cup, they have won knockout matches at consecutive tournaments (excluding third-place play-offs) for the first time. This might well be England's best ever team and they still have age on their side heading to Qatar.

Gareth Southgate's side should at least continue to be hard to beat. Since his first game in charge in 2016, England have kept 35 clean sheets – four clear of Italy with the best tally for a European nation.

 

Spain

Two games into Euro 2020, it seemed unlikely Spain would emerge from the tournament in a particularly positive light. They had dominated against Sweden – setting records for possession (85 per cent), passes (917) and successful passes (830) – and Poland, yet drawn both matches.

But the next two outings were rather more uplifting as La Roja scored five times against both Slovakia and Croatia to become the first team in Euros history to do so in consecutive matches. After scraping past Switzerland on penalties, Spain were the better side against Italy in the last four, only to come up just short – this time beaten on spot-kicks.

If Luis Enrique can unearth a reliable forward before next November, having underperformed their expected goals total by an alarming 4.1, Spain will very much be back in business.

DOWNWARD SLOPE...

Netherlands

At the end of the group stage, the Netherlands looked to be on a comparable course to Italy. They had also missed out on the 2018 World Cup – and Euro 2016 – but then reached the final of the inaugural Nations League in 2019 and won their first three matches at Euro 2020.

Led by Memphis Depay, those victories had also extended a run of scoring at least twice to 10 consecutive games in an Oranje record. Only then, though, did their campaign fall apart.

 

Matthijs de Ligt's red card against the Czech Republic in the last 16 led to a shock 2-0 defeat and cost Frank de Boer his job. Rebuilding again, the Netherlands – who were missing Virgil van Dijk due to the injury he sustained in October 2020 – have work to do just to get to Qatar, one of three teams on six points in Group G in qualifying, behind Turkey.

France

France were the favourites for Euro 2020 and may well be the popular pick again next year, but their shock shoot-out exit to Switzerland raised plenty of questions.

Supposed to shine alongside the returning Karim Benzema, superstar forward Kylian Mbappe disappointed for the first time on the big stage, a solitary assist his only goal involvement. Yet even when the big names did combine to devastating effect, as Benzema scored twice within four minutes and three seconds of a Hugo Lloris penalty save against Switzerland, dismal defending cost Les Bleus.

France gave away a tournament-high three spot-kicks, not helped by Didier Deschamps' unsuccessful attempt to switch to a new 3-4-1-2 formation – one that will surely be left in the drawer for the World Cup.

Portugal

Will Cristiano Ronaldo consider this a successful tournament? Portugal lost their crown, but he took home the Golden Boot with five goals and an assist. The Juventus forward's contributions kept Fernando Santos' side in contention as far as the round of 16, although – as at times at club level – there was a suspicion this team might better be able to thrive without their talisman.

 

No other Portugal player tallied more than two goal involvements, with Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, Bernardo Silva and Andre Silva each drawing blanks. Indeed, that highly talented quartet only attempted 10 shots – five fewer than Ronaldo alone – and created 13 chances between them.

In Qatar, Ronaldo may be less mobile but will surely remain front and centre, reluctant to step aside for Fernandes and Co as he takes one final shot at World Cup glory.

Brazil

Had a tense home final gone their way, Brazil would have again been big winners coming out of the Copa America. But Argentina's progress and decisive victory has seen the Selecao – for so long on top in South America – knocked off their perch.

After five consecutive successes, it was Brazil's first major tournament final defeat since the 1998 World Cup, while they had not been beaten in a knockout match at the Copa America (excluding penalties) since 2001 against Honduras. However, they did become world champions for a fifth time the following year.

That will be the hope as Tite's men regroup, having lost their scoring touch when it mattered most. Brazil netted only twice in three knockout games.

Italy ended their 53-year wait for a second European Championship crown with victory over England in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

Leonardo Bonucci cancelled out an early Luke Shaw goal to take the game to extra time and then penalties, which the Azzurri edged 3-2 to inflict heartbreak on hosts England.

Italy's triumph was deserved on the basis of the qualifying campaign and the tournament itself; Roberto Mancini's side have now gone 34 games unbeaten in all competitions.

England can also be proud of their run, and it is perhaps no surprise that the two finalists dominate Stats Perform's best XI of the tournament.

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo is also included in our Opta data-driven side, along with players from Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

 

Goalkeeper: Yann Sommer (Switzerland)

Gianluigi Donnarumma may have been named UEFA's Player of the Tournament for his penalty shoot-out heroics against Spain and Italy, but Sommer gets the nod after enjoying an incredible tournament.

The Swiss goalkeeper saved a Kylian Mbappe penalty in his side's shoot-out win against France in the last 16 and made a tournament-high 21 saves in total, 10 of those coming in the eventual defeat to Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals.

 

Right-back: Denzel Dumfries (Netherlands)

Dumfries' reputation was certainly enhanced during Euro 2020, even if the Netherlands were sent packing by the Czech Republic at the last-16 stage.

He became just the second ever Netherlands player, after Ruud van Nistelrooy, to score in his first two European Championship appearances, while also helping his side to a couple of clean sheets in his four outings.

Centre-back: Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)

Juventus defender Bonucci was a rock at the heart of Italy's defence, particularly in the quarter-finals when frustrating Belgium's plethora of attackers.

No defender made more interceptions than the 34-year-old (12, level with Ukraine's Mykola Matvienko), and it was his bundled finish that drew his country level against England in the final.

Centre-back: John Stones (England)

England conceded just two goals all tournament, with only one of those coming in open play. A large part of that was down to ever-present defender Stones, who carried his club form with Manchester City onto the international stage.

Stones won 20 aerial challenges – the joint-second most of any defender in the competition, one behind Harry Maguire – and his 447 successful passes placed him behind only Jordi Alba (458) and club-mate Aymeric Laporte (644).

Left-back: Luke Shaw (England)

Shaw was left out for England's opening game against Croatia, but the full-back soon made himself a consistent presence. He was even compared to the great Roberto Carlos after starring with two assists against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.

The Manchester United defender provided three assists in total and netted the fastest-ever goal in a European Championship final with his volley against Italy. Those four goal involvements were bettered only by Patrik Schick (five) and Ronaldo (six).

 

Central midfield: Marco Verratti (Italy)

The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder was a major fitness doubt for the tournament and sat out Italy's first two matches, but boy did he make an impact in the following five games.

Since his first game against Wales on June 20, all-rounder Verratti ranked first among all midfielders at Euro 2020 for chances created (14), passes completed (388), progressive carries (59), tackles (18) and recoveries of possession (37).

Central midfield: Pedri (Spain)

A number of young players enjoyed a breakthrough tournament at this edition of the Euros, arguably none more so than Barcelona superstar in the making Pedri, who made more passes in the opposing half (348) than any other player at the Euros.

He became the second European player to start as many as five games at the age of 18 or below in major tournament history, after Northern Ireland's Norman Whiteside. Proving age is just a number, Pedri completed all 55 of his passes in regular time in the semi-final loss to Italy.

Right wing: Federico Chiesa (Italy)

Versatile wide player Chiesa was always going to be one to watch at the Euros, having stepped up on the big occasions for Juventus last season with goals in key matches, including their Coppa Italia triumph against Atalanta.

He scored Italy's extra-time opener in their last-16 win against Austria and put his side ahead against Spain in the semi-finals. He was not afraid to shoot – only three others did so on more occasions – and was arguably Italy's most dangerous player in the final.

Attacking midfield: Patrik Schick (Czech Republic)

Schick not only scored the joint-most goals, his five strikes putting him level with Ronaldo, but he was responsible for surely the most memorable one of the lot - a 49.7-yard lob against Scotland, the furthest ever distance a goal has been scored at a European Championships.

The Bayer Leverkusen forward found the net in all but one of his side's games, with three of his goals coming from open play, compared to just two for Golden Boot winner Ronaldo.

 

Left wing: Raheem Sterling (England)

England's run to the final would not have been possible if not for the fine form of Sterling, the Manchester City winger responsible for his side's first three goals in the competition.

That includes winning strikes against Croatia and the Czech Republic in the group stage, followed by the opener against Germany in the last 16, before assisting Kane's early goal against Ukraine. Even when not scoring he was a real threat, leading the way with 20 dribbles completed – four more than next player on the list in Frenkie de Jong.

Centre-forward: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Even though it was far from a vintage tournament for Ronaldo and dethroned champions Portugal, the Juventus superstar still claimed the Golden Boot accolade thanks to having one assist more than fellow five-goal forward Schick.

Ronaldo's 72 minutes per goal was the best return of any player to have played at least three times in the tournament. His haul also moved him level with Iran great Ali Daei as the all-time leading goalscorer in men's international football with 109, a record that he will get a chance to break later this year.

 

Frank de Boer has stepped down from his role as Netherlands boss after overseeing a disappointing Euro 2020 campaign.

The 51-year-old took charge of his country in late September 2020 following Ronald Koeman's departure for Barcelona.

He became the first Oranje boss to fail to win any of his first four games but oversaw improvement in the form of eight victories and a draw from the 10 subsequent fixtures.

Three of those triumphs came as the Netherlands cruised through the group stages of this tournament, setting up a last-16 meeting with the Czech Republic.

But the Dutch fell short of their quarter-final target as they lost 2-0 in Budapest; a result that has prompted De Boer to leave his role prior to a planned meeting with KNVB chiefs.

He said: "In anticipation of the evaluation, I have decided not to continue as national coach. The objective has not been achieved, that is clear. 

"When I was approached to become national coach in 2020, I thought it was an honour and a challenge, but I was also aware of the pressure that would come upon me from the moment I was appointed, that pressure is only increasing now, and that is not a healthy situation for me, nor for the squad in the run-up to such an important match for Dutch football on its way to World Cup qualification. 

"I want to thank everyone, of course the fans and the players. My compliments also to the management who have created a real top sports climate here on campus."

The Netherlands sit a point behind group leaders Turkey in their World Cup qualification section ahead of a triple-header of fixtures in September.

Frank de Boer has stepped down from his role as Netherlands boss after overseeing a disappointing Euro 2020 campaign.

The 51-year-old took charge of his country in late September 2020 following Ronald Koeman's departure for Barcelona.

He became the first Oranje boss to fail to win any of his first four games but oversaw improvement in the form of eight victories and a draw from the 10 subsequent fixtures.

Three of those triumphs came as the Netherlands cruised through the group stages of this tournament, setting up a last-16 meeting with the Czech Republic.

But the Dutch fell short of their quarter-final target as they lost 2-0 in Budapest; a result that has prompted De Boer to leave his role prior to a planned meeting with KNVB chiefs.

He said: "In anticipation of the evaluation, I have decided not to continue as national coach. The objective has not been achieved, that is clear. 

"When I was approached to become national coach in 2020, I thought it was an honour and a challenge, but I was also aware of the pressure that would come upon me from the moment I was appointed, that pressure is only increasing now, and that is not a healthy situation for me, nor for the squad in the run-up to such an important match for Dutch football on its way to World Cup qualification. 

"I want to thank everyone, of course the fans and the players. My compliments also to the management who have created a real top sports climate here on campus."

The Netherlands sit in a point behind group leaders Turkey in their World Cup qualification section ahead of a triple-header of fixtures in September.

Belgium and the Czech Republic booked their spots in the last eight of Euro 2020 on Sunday. 

The Red Devils' starting XI against Portugal had an average age of 30 years and 148 days – the oldest named by any of the remaining teams in the competition – and that experience seemingly paid off as they produced a stubborn display to edge past Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. 1-0. 

In the other game, the Czech Republic took full advantage of Matthijs de Ligt's red card early in the second half to seal a shock 2-0 win over the Netherlands. 

Stats Perform looks at the best stats from another absorbing day of action in Euro 2020.

Belgium 1-0 Portugal: Hazard strike seals Red Devils' progress

The Red Devils booked their place in the last eight with their first victory over Portugal since September 1989 (3-0 in a World Cup qualifier), ending a run of five meetings without a win against them.

The winning goal came from Thorgan Hazard in the first half, the Borussia Dortmund man scoring in consecutive games for his country for the first time.

He has also now scored four international goals since his brother, Eden, last scored for the national team, highlighting the older sibling's recent difficulties.

That goal ensured Roberto Martinez's side equalled their longest winning streak at major tournaments, sealing five victories in a row for the second time. Indeed, the Red Devils have won 10 of their 11 games across the World Cup and European Championship since Martinez took charge.

Portugal, meanwhile, will go away and lick their wounds after being eliminated with just one victory from their four games (D1 L2), their fewest in a single European Championship since their first appearance in 1984, when they also won one of four (D2 L1).

It should perhaps come as little surprise they were unable to bounce back from Hazard's goal. Since Euro 2004, they have only fought back to win in one of their 10 games in the competition when they have conceded the opening goal (D3 L6).

Netherlands 0-2 Czech Republic: De Ligt's dismissal proves costly

Frank de Boer's men became the first side to win 100 per cent of their group stage games before losing in 90 minutes in the first knockout round at a European Championship.

They can scarcely have any complaints either, given they failed to have a single shot on target in a European Championship and World Cup game for the first time since Opta records begin (1980). 

Their hopes suffered a blow in the 55th minute when De Ligt became the first player to be sent off at the European Championship for the Netherlands since John Heitinga in 2004 (also versus the Czech Republic). De Ligt (21y 319d) is now the fourth-youngest player to receive a red card in the tournament.

 

The Czech Republic took full advantage of his dismissal, winning their first game in the knockout stages of a major competition since Euro 2004 thanks to goals from Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick. 

Holes became the first Czech player to both score and assist in a single match at the European Championship since Jan Koller and Milan Baros also did so against the Netherlands at Euro 2004.

Schick's goal, meanwhile, was his fourth in four games at Euro 2020, with only Baros (five) now having scored more major tournament goals for the Czech Republic.

Matthijs de Ligt accepted responsibility for the Netherlands' Euro 2020 exit after he was sent off in the 2-0 last-16 defeat to the Czech Republic.

The Juventus defender was dismissed 10 minutes into the second half after a VAR review for a deliberate handball that denied Patrik Schick a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Goals from Tomas Holes and Schick, his fourth of the tournament, secured a memorable win for Jaroslav Silhavy's side as they secured a quarter-final clash with Denmark in Baku.

The Netherlands were far from the free-flowing side that eased through the group phase, Frank de Boer's men becoming the first Dutch side since at least 1980 to go through a Euros or World Cup game without managing a shot on target.

Yet De Ligt felt his error when judging a bouncing ball, and the handball that followed, was the main reason for their defeat.

"Of course, it feels bad. We basically lost the match because of what I did. In hindsight, I shouldn't have let the ball bounce," he told NOS.

"Ultimately, that moment changed the game. I saw how the team fought in the final minutes and I'm very proud of that, but I do feel responsible.

"We had some chances in the first half. No shots on target, but chances. I didn't really feel like they were much better.

"Of course, this hits hard. Playing in a tournament is always a golden opportunity. If you're then knocked out like that, it's even more painful."

 

Midfielder Frenkie de Jong was surprised at his side's insipid display, particularly after their exploits over the first three matchdays.

"It was almost as if we were tired, although I have no idea why," said the Barcelona man. "We really wanted to win it. For some of the boys, this was the biggest game of their careers so far.

"It's not that we weren't prepared tactically. We were focused, and we certainly didn't underestimate them. We just couldn't get our game going. Sometimes you have days like that."

Georginio Wijnaldum struggled to explain the Netherlands' "off-day" against the Czech Republic as their Euro 2020 campaign ended at the last-16 stage.

Frank de Boer's side were the favourites to reach the quarter-finals after three wins from three games in the group stage, but they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in Budapest as a red card to Matthijs de Ligt proved costly.

The Juventus man was sent off for a deliberate handball and the Czech Republic capitalised on their advantage, Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick scoring the goals to send them through.

The Netherlands failed to attempt a shot on target for the first time in a European Championship or World Cup match for the first time since at least 1980 as they struggled to replicate the attacking flair they showed previously in the tournament.

Captain Wijnaldum was an isolated figure throughout in the number 10 role, completing just 10 passes in the contest, the fewest of any Oranje outfield player in a Euros knockout match for at least the past 41 years.

Wijnaldum pointed to a good chance for Donyell Malen, which was missed barely 30 seconds before De Ligt's red card, as a key point in the contest but admitted his side deserved little for their performance.

"In the second half, we had a good chance and you have to finish that," he told NOS.

"The goals we gave away, the chances we didn't take... all that goes through your head. After the red card, we found it difficult to put them under pressure. Things just got more difficult for us.

"The whole match was tough going. Somehow we couldn't deal with the way they pressurised us. We couldn't create spaces. We fashioned a few chances in the first half, but not enough.

"Before the tournament, there was a lot of criticism around our way of playing, and we turned that around. Today was an off-day. I can hardly explain it. It's very difficult, but it's the reality."

The Czech Republic will face Denmark in the quarter-finals next Saturday.

 

The Netherlands have been one of the most obviously entertaining and thrilling sides to watch at Euro 2020 and the opening stages of their shock 2-0 last-16 defeat to the Czech Republic in Budapest was no exception.

Frank De Boer's side were rapid and relentless down the flanks and, by the time Denzel Dumfries peeled infield and charged into the centre-forward position to collect Daley Blind's raking pass, a bedraggled Czech backline might have found it easier to be marking all 50,000 inhabitants of the Scottish town with which the rampaging right wing-back shares a name.

Tomas Kalas managed to force Dumfries wide and made a vital, scampering challenge. There is entertainment in such last-ditch defending too, although it rarely looks much fun for the protagonist.

Seven minutes before half-time, it was impossible to ignore a towering man in orange who appeared to be deriving little enjoyment from what was unfolding.

Some worryingly passive Dutch defending let Lukas Masopust find Antonin Barak in the area. In flew Matthijs de Ligt with a goal-saving challenge. The Juventus centre-back howled at everyone within earshot. He was furious.

 

De Ligt the leader

At that moment, it felt like the 21-year-old was in the process of turning in a defining performance to quell the hum of criticism that has soundtracked the past two years of a career that still promises so much.

"De Ligt is the centre-back of our defence. He needs to become much more of a leader than he is now," Netherlands great Marco van Basten told the NOS channel in a curiously harsh criticism after De Ligt returned to help his side to a clean sheet against Austria following the chaotic 3-2 win over Ukraine.

"He went to Italy to learn how to defend more, but I think he didn't learn much there. He needs to lead the rest much more."

De Ligt left Ajax after their celebratory 2018-19 campaign already looking like a born leader. It was hard to imagine those credentials being questioned. But a transitional year at Juventus as Maurizio Sarri tried to implement a new style, followed by last season's ignominy of surrendering the Serie A title under Andrea Pirlo amounted to an unforgiving education in Italy's top flight.

Still, he managed to retain an admirably positive outlook.

"I'm really lucky as I'm playing with almost everybody I'd be watching if I was a young player," De Ligt told The Athletic midway through 2020-21.

"[Leonardo] Bonucci is really good in the build-up, so I talk to him about that and watch what he is doing. [Giorgio] Chiellini is really good at marking, so I'm trying to learn from him too.

"I play with [Virgil] Van Dijk [for the Netherlands]. In the end, though, it's so important that you develop your own game and don't start being a copycat of someone else."

Sunday's match, with Van Dijk a long-term absentee and the prospect of a charge for glory such as the one Bonucci is underpinning with Italy, looked like it might become the game where De Ligt stepped out of those considerable shadows.

De Ligt the scapegoat

As it was, his ill-timed stumble and handball to deny Patrik Schick a goalscoring opportunity – moments after Donyell Malen should have opened the scoring at the other end – engulfed the defender and his team-mates in a darkness they could not lift as the lights went out on their Euro 2020 bid.

"An experienced mature defender doesn't make the second mistake and lets the forward go on and score, because he doesn't leave his team with 10 men on the field," Gary Neville said on ITV after some horrid last-ditch defending that was no fun at all for the man involved.

 

De Ligt's red card makes him an obvious scapegoat. Everything changed when he went off. Save for the effervescent Dumfries charging forward to draw a yellow card from Vladimir Coufal, making a block to rival De Ligt's earlier effort to thwart Pavel Kaderabek and still causing havoc in the opposition half, there was little to recommend about how De Boer's men responded to adversity – their game management very much a minute-by-minute, reactive endeavour.

Tomas Holes' 68th-minute opener hastened the capitulation and the Golden Boot-chasing Schick put the result beyond doubt with his fourth of the tournament. The Netherlands were out, having not conceded a goal at any stage with De Ligt on the field.

He will not have wanted to perversely prove his worth in this fashion. De Ligt's tendency to find positives will be put to its biggest test after this shot at greatness slipped through his fingers because the ball did not.

The Czech Republic reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 with a surprise 2-0 win over the Netherlands, who had Matthijs de Ligt sent off.

A close game in Budapest swung the way of Jaroslav Silhavy's men 55 minutes in when De Ligt was dismissed for a deliberate handball that prevented Patrik Schick from having a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Tomas Holes then headed in the opening goal before superbly setting up Schick for the second as the Czech Republic progressed to the last eight, where they face Denmark.

The majority of the Netherlands' first-half threat came through the forward runs of Denzel Dumfries, the right-back posing a real danger down the right but unable to provide for Memphis Depay and Donyell Malen.

The best of the first-half chances fell to Antonin Barak, who was teed up by Lukas Masopust but saw his effort from six yards out just blocked over the bar by De Ligt.

Malen carved out a brilliant opening to break the deadlock, driving his way through the Czech Republic defence only to see Tomas Vaclik take the ball from his feet as he tried to round the goalkeeper.

Moments later, De Ligt misjudged a bouncing ball and hooked it away from Patrik Schick with his hand as he fell, leading referee Sergey Karasev to send off the centre-back after a VAR review.

Pavel Kaderabek had a great chance when Schick missed a header, but Dumfries made a brilliant block in front of keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, the Netherlands suddenly on the ropes.

The breakthrough came with a little over 20 minutes left, Holes heading into the net after Tomas Kalas nodded the ball back across the box, with Stekelenburg caught out of position.

Frank de Boer introduced Wout Weghorst in a bid to find an equaliser, but Schick put the game beyond doubt with a slick low finish after Holes drove through a gap between Georginio Wijnaldum and Dumfries before cutting the ball back.

 

Head coach Frank de Boer has warned his Netherlands players there must be "no slackening" in their bid for Euro 2020 glory.

The Netherlands face the Czech Republic in the last 16 of Euro 2020 on Sunday as they look to win their opening four games of a European Championship for just the second time.

The sides will face each other at the European Championship for the third time (excl. Czechoslovakia meetings), with both sides winning one game apiece previously. 

They last faced each other in a tournament at Euro 2004 when the Czechs came from two goals down to win 3-2, following an 88th-minute winner from Vladimir Smicer.

De Boer's men have looked in good form and were the top scorers during the group stage with eight goals ahead of the match in Budapest.

"After the win over North Macedonia, we pulled the plug for a while and had a day off," De Boer told a media conference on Saturday.

"But then we immediately picked up the thread again. The other members of the technical staff and the players themselves must ensure that there is no slackening. 

"Players have to hold each other accountable for that as well.

"The Czech Republic know what they want and can disrupt us. They have many people working without a ball, and it is a team that is difficult to fight. 

"We will have a lot of work to do and it will be great achievement to beat the Czech Republic."

De Boer claimed the Netherlands have the ability to win the tournament and acknowledged they have favourable recovery periods, but still need everything to click into gear 

"Of course it depends on the game we show," De Boer added.

"I'm especially happy with the schedule we have now if we keep winning. If we progress one round, we have five rest days and then three rest days I'm happy with that schedule.

"The tournament is only successful if we sail through those challenges. We have the qualities to become European champions, but then everything has to be right."

The Netherlands are looking to win their opening four games of a European Championship for just the second time when they take on the Czech Republic in the last 16 of Euro 2020 on Sunday. 

Head coach Frank de Boer played every minute when they last achieved that feat in 2000, the Oranje ultimately losing on penalties to Italy in the semi-finals. 

The Netherlands, who will be without Luuk de Jong after he was ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury, do not have a successful record in the knockout stages of this competition, progressing from just two of their seven standalone games since they won the tournament in 1988. They beat Yugoslavia 6-1 in the 2000 quarter-final and overcame Sweden on penalties at the same stage in 2004. 

Standing in their way of a quarter-final clash against either Wales or Denmark is a Czech Republic side who have a miserable record of their own when it comes to European Championship knockout games. 

Jaroslav Silhavy's side have been eliminated in three of their last four games in the knockout stages of the tournament – versus Germany in the final in 1996, Greece in the semi-final in 2004, and most recently, Portugal in the quarter-final of Euro 2012.

They will be without left-back Jan Boril after he picked up a second yellow card of the tournament in the final group game against England, with Ales Mateju in line to deputise.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Netherlands – Georginio Wijnaldum

Wijnaldum made a reasonably slow start in finding the back of the net at international level, scoring 10 goals in his first 53 appearances for the Oranje. He has accelerated in recent years, though, with no player scoring more for the Netherlands than his 15 in 25 games since the start of 2019. 

The new Paris Saint-Germain midfielder scored three goals in the group stage, including a brace in the 3-0 win over North Macedonia. The Czech Republic have been warned.

Czech Republic – Patrik Schick

Schick lit up Euro 2020 with his stunning long-range strike against Scotland in his side's opening game in Group D. 

The Bayer Leverkusen forward was responsible for six of his side's nine shots on target in the group stage – the highest percentage of any player for his team in the tournament (67 per cent).

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be the first meeting between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic since October 2015, when the Dutch were beaten 3-2 in a Euro 2016 qualifier. Indeed, they have lost each of their last two games against the Czech Republic – both coming in qualifying for the previous European Championship in 2016.
- The Czech Republic and the Netherlands will face each other at the European Championship for the third time (excl. Czechoslovakia meetings), with both sides winning one game apiece previously. Their last meeting in the competition was a thriller at Euro 2004, in which the Czechs came from two goals down to win 3-2, following an 88th minute winner from Vladimir Smicer.
- The Netherlands completed more high turnovers (open play sequences that start within 40 metres of the opponent’s goal line) than any other side in the Euro 2020 group stages (44), while only Spain (60) forced more pressed sequences (sequences where the opposition has three or fewer passes and the sequence ends within 40m of their own goal) than the Dutch (58).
- Memphis Depay has been directly involved in 13 goals in his last 10 appearances for Netherlands in all competitions (nine goals, four assists), while only Robert Lewandowski (12) attempted more shots than Depay (11) in the group stage at Euro 2020.

With the group stage of Euro 2020 now over, we can get down to the important business: arguing over who have been the best players until now.

The first three matchdays produced some enthralling spectacles, a handful of shocks and one or two rather forgettable encounters of which there is no need to speak any more.

We have seen some rather obvious star turns, such as a certain Portugal striker equalling the record for international goals in men's football, while other standout performers have flown a little more under the radar.

Here, using Opta data for added insight, Stats Perform presents the Euro 2020 team of the group stage. Please do read on for a few explanations before starting on those angry comments...

 

 

GK: DANNY WARD

Wales battled their way into the knockout rounds after finishing second in Group A, ahead of Switzerland on goal difference. Much of that is down to Danny Ward's form.

The Leicester City man saved 86.7 of the shots on target he faced, the best record among keepers to make at least five saves.

 

LCB: DALEY BLIND

The Netherlands surprised a few people with three convincing wins in Group C, with Daley Blind's calm yet authoritative presence at the heart of their performances.

Blind completed 221 passes in the group stage, more than any other Oranje player, with more than half of those (115) coming in opposition territory.

 

CB: ANDREAS CHRISTENSEN

Quite rightly celebrated for that thunderbolt of a goal in Denmark's key victory over Russia, Andreas Christensen's all-round displays make him worthy of inclusion here.

The Chelsea defender won 79.2 of his duels in the first three rounds, a tally bettered only by Oleksandr Karavaev (80 per cent) and Thomas Vermaelen (90 per cent) among those to contest at least 10.

 

RCB: LEONARDO BONUCCI

Italy's 1.3 expected goals against was the lowest figure of any side in the group phase, underlining the imperious nature of their form not just at these finals but in the whole of their 11-game winning run in which they have not let in a single goal.

Leonardo Bonucci has been the rock at the back, particularly with Giorgio Chiellini battling injury. He has won possession 11 times, the most of any Azzurri defender, and has yet to be beaten by a dribble.

 

LWB: JORDI ALBA

Jordi Alba was Spain's standout performer until the rest of the team somewhat caught up on matchday three as they turned on the style to thrash Slovakia 5-0.

The Barcelona left-back completed 247 passes, the most of any defender after Aymeric Laporte (259), while leading the way for possession won (30 times).

 

CM: GEORGINIO WIJNALDUM

With three goals in three games, Georginio Wijnaldum surpassed the great Marco van Basten on the all-time Netherlands scoring charts to reach 25 for his country.

Enjoying a more advanced role at these finals, Paris Saint-Germain fans are being given a glimpse of what the midfielder could provide for them next season.

 

CM: PIERRE-EMILE HOJBJERG

Alongside Kevin De Bruyne, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is one of only two midfielders to create nine goalscoring chances during the group stage.

The Tottenham man set up two Denmark's goals in the 4-1 hammering of Russia to move to three assists at these finals, a tally matched only by Switzerland's Steven Zuber.

 

CM: MANUEL LOCATELLI

His two goals against Switzerland were the highlight of his group-stage displays and made Manuel Locatelli just the third Italy player to score twice in a single European Championship match.

The Sassuolo star was rested against Wales, but the quality of his performances in the first two games prompted rumours that Juventus have redoubled their efforts to sign him.

 

RWB: DENZEL DUMFRIES

Full-back Denzel Dumfries became an unlikely goalscoring hero for Frank de Boer, becoming just the second Netherlands player to score in his first two European Championship games (the first was Ruud van Nistelrooy).

Denmark wing-back Joakim Maehle was the only nominal defender with more touches in the opposition box (20) during the group stage than Dumfries (17).

 

CF: ROMELU LUKAKU

Continuing his spectacular Inter form at these finals, Romelu Lukaku scored three times in Belgium's group games from a total of just four shots on target.

He would probably be the favourite for the Golden Boot were it not for the form of the only man to outscore him in Serie A last season...

 

CF: CRISTIANO RONALDO

With five goals in three games, Cristiano Ronaldo became the leading goalscorer at the World Cup and European Championship combined (21).

The Portugal captain needs just one more to surpass Ali Daei as the top-scoring international men's footballer of all time.

We had to wait an extra year, but the Euro 2020 group stage threw up drama and records – and in terms of goals it delivered magnificently.

With the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku hitting their stride, it was a feast for the strikers, with 94 goals scored across the 36 games.

That represented a massive raising of the bar after only 69 goals were netted at the same stage in the 2016 tournament.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the most eye-catching numbers that defined the first 13 days of this delayed tournament – ahead of the do-or-die knockout stage getting under way.

 

Ronaldo making up for lost time

Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player to score as many as five goals in the group stages of a single European Championship since Michel Platini bagged seven for France in 1984, on his way to a nine-goal tournament tally. Three of Ronaldo's goals for Portugal at this tournament have been penalties, while Platini netted just one spot-kick during France's run 37 years ago.

Impressively, Platini's goals in 1984 came from an expected goals (xG) rate of just 3.32, while Ronaldo has recorded his five from a total of 4.71 so far. Opta builds its expected goals data by measuring the quality of an attempt based on variables such as assist type, shot angle and distance from goal, whether it was a headed shot and whether it was defined as a big chance. It means Ronaldo has put away approximately the number of goals he should have expected to score.

Ronaldo scored twice from the penalty spot in Wednesday's 2-2 draw with France, the first game in the history of the Euros to see three spot-kicks scored, excluding shoot-outs.

Defending champions Portugal have been far from perfect, however, dropping a competition-high five points from winning positions.

While Ronaldo has the most goals of any player so far in these finals, he has not been able to keep up with the rising tide of own goals. There have been a staggering eight, as many as were scored between the 1980 and 2016 editions combined.

 

Firing range

Why wait until seeing the whites of the goalkeeper's eyes before offloading a shot?

Patrik Schick had one quick glance towards David Marshall's goal and let fly from 49.7 yards at Hampden Park to put the Czech Republic 2-0 in front against Scotland. That incredible moment gave Schick the longest-range strike on record at the European Championship, with such measured distances available from the 1980 tournament onwards.

There were 304 shots from outside the penalty area in the group stage, but only 12 goals scored from such long range. That ratio of one goal for every 25.3 shots from long distance was nevertheless an improvement on the Euro 2016 numbers, when just 16 goals from outside the area were scored from 638 attempts across the whole tournament – one every 39.9 shots.

 

Low Countries, tall targets

Belgium and the Netherlands are nations who have experienced mixed fortunes on the football field in the 21st century, but both will feel a big moment could be arriving.

The Belgian Red Devils were absent from all major tournaments between their appearances at the 2002 and 2014 World Cups, while the Dutch were conspicuous by their absence from Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Lukaku, with three goals so far, has been a terrific spearhead of the Belgium side, netting 50 per cent of the goals their players have netted (excluding own goals) at Euro 2020 despite only taking 22 per cent of their shots – seven of 32 attempts.

If Lukaku keeps firing, with Kevin De Bruyne and co prompting from midfield, then Belgium, who have never won a World Cup or European Championship, have a strong chance to show why they are ranked by FIFA as the world's number one team.

Belgium exceeded their collective xG tally by 3.15 – scoring seven against xG of 3.85 – the highest number by which any side surpassed their expected goals in their opening three games.

Their neighbours, the Netherlands, have also caught the eye. Ronald Koeman lifted the Oranje from their doldrums and successor Ronald de Boer has guided the team through the group stage as top scorers and with a 100 per cent record.

That Group C success, with eight goals scored and two conceded, came on the back of Georginio Wijnaldum scoring three times. In doing so, he has overtaken Marco van Basten and Dirk Kuyt on the list of the Netherlands' leading international goalscorers, moving to 25, one ahead of the former Milan and Liverpool forwards.

Or, to put it another way, Wijnaldum is halfway to matching Robin van Persie's record haul of 50 international goals.

 

Boring, boring England?

England, by netting only twice, became the lowest-scoring side to ever finish top of a group at a European Championship. They did not so much storm through Group D as plod a methodical path through to the last-16 stage, although an xG of 4.45 suggests England have at least been creating chances, albeit not finishing as well as they might.

Yet England might yet go far. Germany visit Wembley next Tuesday and will encounter English players who have only been dribbled past 12 times in the group stage, the lowest number among all competing teams. England's expected goals against (xGA) tally is a miserly 1.33, the second lowest in the tournament behind an Italy side (1.3) who have got it right at both ends of the pitch to.

Turkey's players were dribbled past on 36 occasions, a group-stage high, and only North Macedonia (8.85) had a higher xGA than Senol Gunes' team (7.69), who failed to live up to 'dark horse' expectations.

 

Riding their luck? Or being all out of it?

Wales conceded just twice, defying an xGA total of 5.47, and reached the knockout stage on the back of that. The gap of 3.47 between expectation and reality with that metric was the highest among all competing teams.

Conversely, Scotland scored just once against an xG of 4.00 – with 3.00 the highest negative difference between xG and goals scored.

Russia bowed out, and could hardly blame anyone but themselves. Their players made three errors leading to goals – more than any other side and the joint-most by any nation at a finals going back to 1980, the point from which records are available.

Hungary also exited the tournament. They predictably finished last in the 'group of death' – adrift of France, Germany and Portugal – but Hungary were surprisingly ahead for more minutes and trailed for fewer than any other team in that Group F campaign.

Denmark squeezed through in second place behind Belgium in Group B, becoming the first team in European Championship history to reach the knockout stages of the competition having lost their first two group stage games. After the alarm of the Christian Eriksen situation, many would love them to go further.

Would you Luka that!

Luka Modric became the oldest player to score for Croatia at the Euros, netting a gorgeous strike in the 3-1 win against Scotland at the age of 35 years and 286 days. That made it an unusual double for the veteran playmaker, who also holds the record for being Croatia's youngest scorer at the tournament (22 years 73 days versus Austria in 2008).

Modric continues to marvel, and there was a slice of history for another midfielder in the group stage as Switzerland's Steven Zuber became only the third player since 1980 to register three assists in a single European Championship game – doing so against Turkey – after Portugal's Rui Costa in his rampaging 2000 display that tormented England and Denmark's Michael Laudrup in 1984 against Yugoslavia.

Georginio Wijnaldum will wear a rainbow-coloured armband when he captains the Netherlands against the Czech Republic in Budapest on Sunday and has declared that he and his team-mates could leave the field if they are subjected to any form of abuse.

Hungary has faced criticism over its treatment of LGBTQ people after passing a law that prohibits the sharing of content in schools that could be deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change.

Football's attempts to show support have also created controversy, with UEFA launching an investigation into Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer's use of a rainbow armband - a nod to the flag of the LGBTQ community - before acknowledging the motif as "a team symbol for diversity".

However, the governing body did not allow Munich's Allianz Arena to be lit up in those colours for Germany's final Group F game against Hungary on Wednesday, ostensibly due to its rules regarding political neutrality.

But that has not discouraged Wijnaldum from plans to wear an armband featuring the words "One Love" for the first time in the tournament when the Dutch head to the Hungarian capital.

"It is not just against Hungary," he said. "The armband means a lot because we stand for diversity – one love means everybody is a part of it and everybody should be free to be who they are.

"In our opinion [the right to be yourself] has been encroached upon. As players we have a podium to do whatever we can to help."

UEFA launched an investigation into allegations that France star Kylian Mbappe and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo faced racist and homophobic abuse during their appearances in Budapest.

And Wijnaldum has warned that he will be ready to take his team off the pitch should any such incidents occur during Sunday's last-16 clash.

"UEFA should be there to protect the players and make the decision," he said. "It should not be left to the players. Players often get punished for protecting themselves so UEFA needs to take a lead role in this.

"I have said I don’t really know how I will react in such a situation. I thought first that I would walk off the pitch but maybe not now because maybe the opponent will think: ‘Let them [in the crowd] throw racist slurs and they will walk off the pitch'.

"It could be the case that I will walk off the pitch but I will speak with the players about it first."

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