Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen will miss Euro 2020 after testing positive for coronavirus.

The 32-year-old was forced to sit out the Netherlands' pre-tournament training camp in Portugal after returning a positive result last week.

Cillessen has 60 caps for his country and was expected to be first choice at the European Championship finals, but boss Frank de Boer has omitted the Valencia stopper from his squad.

AZ keeper Marco Bizot, who has been part of the Netherlands' warm-up preparations, has now been included in the final 26-man group.

The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) confirmed the news in a statement on Tuesday, a day before facing Scotland in their penultimate friendly in the Algarve ahead of the tournament.

Explaining his decision to leave out experienced keeper Cillessen, De Boer said at a news conference: "Let me start by saying this is incredibly sour for Jasper.

"I informed him of my decision this morning. I had to take the plunge. He tested positive for coronavirus and as a result missed an important part of our preparations.

"We don't know how long it will take until he is 100 per cent fit again. I don't want to taken any chances. We are on the eve of a European Championship and I want certainty."

Tim Krul and Maarten Stekelenburg, of Norwich City and Ajax respectively, will now battle it out to be first choice for the Netherlands, with late call-up Bizot acting as a back-up.

De Boer's side kick off their Group D campaign against Ukraine in Amsterdam on June 13 before facing Austria and North Macedonia.

A hectic, congested year of football culminates in the delayed European Championship, which starts on June 11 when Turkey take on Italy in Rome.

Euro 2020, hosted in 11 cities spread across the continent, was meant to be a celebration of the 60th anniversary of UEFA's international tournament. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic derailed the plans, forcing the postponement of the event until 2021.

Though the qualified teams had been readying themselves to play last year, and the pandemic has forced a much-altered football calendar in 2020-21, some countries may have benefitted from the delay.

For others, it may be a case of what might have been. Here, using Opta data, Stats Perform looks at how the main favourites to go all the way have been boosted by the postponement. 

Belgium

Romelu Lukaku – Belgium's record scorer – has built on a brilliant debut season with Inter, going on to help the Nerazzurri claim the Scudetto, with the 28-year-old netting 24 times in Serie A (a tally bettered only by Cristiano Ronaldo), at an average of one goal per 120 minutes, and providing 11 assists in the process.

Another player who has gone from strength to strength in 2020-21 has been Youri Tielemans, who lashed in an exceptional strike to win Leicester City's first FA Cup. The midfielder racked up 4,438 minutes of playing time, the sixth-highest total in Europe's top five leagues, so Roberto Martinez – whose future is uncertain – may have to manage him carefully.

England

Gareth Southgate named a 33-man provisional squad, and while the England boss does have doubts over the fitness of some key stars, he cannot complain at the wealth of talent at his disposal, with several players having come to the fore in the last year.

John Stones is back to his best, and right-backs Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier have won titles in England and Spain respectively. Ahead of them, Jude Bellingham – who could become the youngest Three Lions player to appear at the Euros – had an outstanding season with Borussia Dortmund, though it is in attack where Southgate really is spoilt for choice.

Harry Kane won the Premier League golden boot and topped the assist charts, while back-up Dominic Calvert-Lewin registered a top-flight goal every 179.63 minutes. Behind them, Phil Foden and Mason Mount are talismanic figures Champions League finalists City and Chelsea, while Jack Grealish created 81 chances – the third highest in the division – for Aston Villa, despite missing 12 games through injury. 

 

France

England's options somewhat pale in comparison to the depth Didier Deschamps has to play with. Eduardo Camavinga looked set to be one of the youngsters to break onto the scene for Les Bleus, but the Rennes teenager has not even made the squad for the rearranged tournament, while Anthony Martial is another big name to miss out.

Kylian Mbappe reached last season's Champions League final and has gone on to score 42 goals in 47 appearances across all competitions this term, averaging a strike every 89 minutes, while Antoine Griezmann is looking sharp.

As if it was not enough, Deschamps has also recalled Karim Benzema, who scored 30 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid to earn his first call up in over five years. In midfield, N'Golo Kante has been spectacular for Champions League winners Chelsea, with only six Premier League midfielders who have attempted over 75 tackles recording a higher success rate than his 53.16.

Germany

Joachim Low has decided to call it quits after the tournament, with Hansi Flick incoming. But surely that will only spur Germany on as they look to end Low's tenure on a high, and he has recalled 2014 World Cup winners Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels to help the cause.

With Timo Werner having struggled to convert chances into goals for Chelsea – scoring 12 times in 52 appearances and registering a shot conversion rate of just 7.59 in the Premier League – Muller, who created the most chances (93) and provided the most assists (18) in the Bundesliga – will share the burden, while Jamal Musiala, Bayern Munich's youngest Champions League goalscorer, is surely one of the youngsters to watch.

 

Italy

After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy were in need of a rebuild, and Roberto Mancini has provided the steady hand required.

Mancini is unbeaten in all 26 games of his Italy tenure, as he closes in on the all-time record of 30 set by Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930, and the Azzurri look well placed to challenge. One question mark could be over goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who seems destined for a move to Juventus.

Netherlands

Perhaps no team has undergone more change in the past year than the Netherlands. Ronald Koeman looked set to have a strong side heading into Euro 2020, albeit injuries would have shorn him of Memphis Depay and Donyell Malen.

As luck would have it, both of those attackers will be fit for the Oranje, and come in off the back of strong seasons with Lyon and PSV respectively. But it will not be Koeman who is in charge – he is of course now at the helm at Barcelona, though whether his tenure continues for much longer remains to be seen – with Frank de Boer his replacement.

Portugal

More records tumbled in 2020-21 for Ronaldo, though there is no doubt the 36-year-old's powers are waning slightly with age.

Portugal are, of course, the holders, having seen off France in 2016, but Fernando Santos' squad is arguably much stronger than it was five years ago, with Andre Silva – who finished behind only Robert Lewandowski in the Bundesliga scoring charts this season – providing a focal point up top, while Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota and Joao Felix have continued their trajectories of improvement in the last year.

But it is Ruben Dias' form over the last season that may benefit Portugal the most. The centre-back has been imperious for Man City, playing a crucial role in a defence that has conceded just 42 goals in all competitions.

Spain

With Sergio Ramos not judged to be fit, Luis Enrique has picked a relatively inexperienced – at least at international level – defence, with only 24 players named in his squad.

Pau Torres is certainly a player who has improved over the past 12 months. He has just helped Villarreal to a Europa League triumph, with the centre-back, who is sure to be interesting some of Europe's biggest clubs, being the defender with the most games played in the competition without being dribbled past (nine). Spain have also been buoyed by Aymeric Laporte's switch of allegiance from France.

Thiago Alcantara has not always hit his best form at Liverpool, though Spain's midfield is boosted by two title winners in Atletico Madrid duo Koke and Marcos Llorente, who was involved in 23 goals in 2020-21.

Up top, Gerard Moreno netted 30 goals in all competitions for Villarreal – among LaLiga players, only Lionel Messi played a part in more goals.

Memphis Depay hopes Barcelona keep faith with Ronald Koeman as president Joan Laporta scours for a superior alternative.

It appeared certain, until recent developments, that Depay and former Netherlands boss Koeman would be reunited at Barcelona in the coming weeks, but now it is unclear whether either will start the season with the Catalan giants.

Depay has looked destined to arrive as a free agent after deciding to leave Lyon, while Koeman was chasing a LaLiga and Copa del Rey double until Barcelona's league form deserted them in the closing weeks of the season.

Now Laporta is assessing whether there is a better coaching option available to Barcelona for the new campaign, at the same time as keeping Koeman on in the event he cannot find a more accomplished boss. Reports have even suggested Laporta would like to bring Pep Guardiola back to the club, which on the face of it looks highly unlikely.

Depay says his own prospects of a move to Barcelona do not hinge on Koeman being the man in charge.

"I don't think that matters if a club like Barcelona is interested," said Depay. "It's a fantastic club, but there are more great clubs.

"Regardless of where I go, I would like it if Koeman stays there. For himself anyway."

Laporta indicated on Friday that Barcelona would begin to announce new signings over the coming week, and Depay confirmed in his interview with Dutch broadcaster NOS that "interest is there".

He is with the Netherlands squad that is preparing for Euro 2020, having qualified under the guidance of Koeman before he was tempted away by Barcelona last August.

Frank de Boer now holds Koeman's old job and Depay promised to have "100 per cent focus" on national team duties, with a June 2 warm-up game against Scotland coming up.

Depay scored 22 goals in 40 games across all competitions for Lyon in the season just ended, at an average of one goal every 141.5 minutes, his second best rate since joining the French club in January 2017 from Manchester United.

He massively exceeded his expected goals (xG) tally of 12.38 and also had 12 assists, down on his 2017-18 best of 17 for the club but still immensely useful. Of all players from Ligue 1, only Paris Saint-Germain's Angel Di Maria beat that assists total, setting up 15 goals.

For those reasons, it is easy to see why Koeman would want him, but if a contract is not inked then any incoming Barcelona coach may take a different view.

Only Lionel Messi (38) beat Depay's goals haul in 2020-21 among current Barca players, and only Jordi Alba (13) had more assists.

Going into the Euros, Depay stands to be prominent for the Dutch, who last won the European Championship in 1988, when Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, along with the likes of Koeman, made them a devastating side.

Koeman more recently lifted the gloom surrounding the national team, after they shockingly failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

"You see, as has already been shown in the past, that the Netherlands can go a long way. We want to do that again," Depay said. "I think this team can do a lot.

"We are finally back and everyone is super happy about that. But now it is time to show why we are there."

Netherlands head coach Frank de Boer agrees with Virgil van Dijk's decision to sit out Euro 2020 and expects Georginio Wijnaldum and Matthijs de Ligt to fill the leadership void.

Dutch skipper Van Dijk confirmed two weeks ago that he will miss the tournament to focus on getting fully fit for the start of pre-season with Liverpool.

The 29-year-old missed the majority of the 2020-21 campaign due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained against Everton in October, though he is now back in individual training.

De Boer accepts Van Dijk will be a big loss for Oranje in their quest to win a second European Championship title, but understands the decision taken by the centre-back.

"Virgil made the decision himself," De Boer said at a news conference on Wednesday. "I think that's the way it should be. 

"We all hoped that he would have been able to join us, that he would have had the same scenario as Daley Blind, that he would have been able to play one or two games. 

"If we would reach the final, he would have been fit to play, that's what he said himself. In the end, it's been a very well thought out choice of his, even though it sucks for us. 

"We hope we'll reach the World Cup, too, which will be played pretty soon. He doesn't want to miss two big tournaments and he also wants to be important for his club next season. 

"We have all seen how big of an impact his absence has had on us and on Liverpool."

Wijnaldum took over captaincy duties from club-mate Van Dijk last November and will wear the armband at the delayed Euro 2020 finals.

De Boer can also call upon the likes of Inter's Stefan de Vrij and Juventus defender De Ligt, who became the youngest captain in Ajax's history in 2017.

Asked who in his squad will spur the players on, De Boer said: "At this point, it's our captain [Wijnaldum]. 

"But there's different types of leaders: some are charismatic, some are very vocal. That's why you're asking this.

"I think Virgil van Dijk has everything: he has charisma, he's vocal and he looks like a true leader. Now we need to find others. 

"Matthijs de Ligt was captaining Ajax at 19. He is also a similar leader. Stefan de Vrij has proven to be able to do so as well in his recent years at the highest level at Inter. 

"It's something that has to grow within the squad. Daley Blind might not be a very physical leader, but he's very vocal and clear about what he wants others to do – a big plus for us.

"I don't think we have one single leader that has all of those qualities, but it's now time for multiple leaders to stand up and work as one, both on and off the pitch."

De Boer was speaking after naming his finalised 26-man squad for the Euros on Wednesday.

Tottenham forward Steven Bergwijn was the biggest casualty of the eight players cut from the initial 34-man group.

Anwar El Ghazi, Hans Hateboer, Rick Karsdorp, Marco Bizot, Jeremiah St. Juste, Kenny Tete and Tonny Vilhena were the other players omitted by De Boer.

The Netherlands begin their Group C campaign against Ukraine in Amsterdam on June 13, before facing Austria and North Macedonia.

 

Netherlands squad in full:

Jasper Cillessen (Valencia), Tim Krul (Norwich City), Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax); Nathan Ake (Manchester City), Daley Blind (Ajax), Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus), Stefan de Vrij (Inter), Denzel Dumfries (PSV), Jurrien Timber (Ajax), Patrick van Aanholt (Crystal Palace), Joel Veltman (Brighton and Hove Albion), Owen Wijndal (AZ); Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Teun Koopmeiners (AZ), Donny van de Beek (Manchester United), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool); Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord), Luuk de Jong (Sevilla), Memphis Depay (Olympique Lyonnais), Cody Gakpo (PSV), Donyell Malen (PSV), Quincy Promes (Spartak Moscow), Wout Weghorst (Wolfsburg).

Daley Blind is hopeful he can be fit in time for the Netherlands' Euro 2020 campaign after being ruled out for the rest of Ajax's season with an ankle injury.

The 31-year-old sustained the damage during the second half of Tuesday's 7-0 World Cup 2022 qualifying victory over Gibraltar.

Blind was initially feared to have suffered knee ligament damage in the awkward fall, which left him wincing in pain and in need of a stretcher.

However, the versatile defender underwent a scan on Thursday and it was confirmed he has avoided a long-term lay-off, but he is unlikely to play again for Ajax this campaign.

Ajax provided an update on their official website and Blind said: "Today, after an examination in the hospital it turned out that fortunately there is no damage to the knee, but that the front ankle ligament of my left ankle is torn.

"I assume that my season at Ajax is over. I will have an operation next week. If everything goes well during rehabilitation, I hope that I can still make it to the Euros this summer."

"Of course I am terribly disappointed. You play football to win trophies and those trophies will be won in the coming months. Of course, I wanted to be there. It has been a wonderful season with Ajax so far. That now ends very abruptly for me."

Ajax are 11 points clear of PSV at the top of the Eredivisie, face Roma in the last eight of the Europa League and are into the final of the KNVB Beker, where Vitesse await later this month.

Vice-captain Blind has featured 34 times for Ajax in 2020-21 and started all three of the his country's World Cup qualifiers.

Fellow Netherlands defender Virgil van Dijk is also in a race against time to be fit for the delayed European Championship finals, which begins for the Dutch on June 13 with a clash against Ukraine in Amsterdam. Ukraine and Austria are also in Group C.

Frank de Boer hit out at Gibraltar for perceived histrionics that he felt amounted to "anti-football" during Netherlands' 7-0 win on Tuesday.

The Oranje crushed their hosts in World Cup qualifying Group G, scoring six times in the second half as the Dutch took full advantage of their superiority – Gibraltar did not have a single shot.

Steven Berghuis, Luuk de Jong, Georginio Wijnaldum, Donyell Malen, Donny van de Beek and a Memphis Depay brace did the damage for the away side, who were challenged by De Boer to net at least five.

The former Ajax boss had been frustrated by his team's profligacy in the 2-0 win over Latvia at the weekend and made the curious decision to publicly set a goals target.

While he was largely pleased with the manner of the win, he took aim at Gibraltar for their conduct during the match.

"I am very satisfied with the seven goals, but it is really almost anti-football," he told NOS.

"All the players going down after a single touch, while every time the whole bench went crazy, complaining to the referee.

"The goalkeeper was taking a minute for a goal-kick… I got tired of it. I'm glad the game is behind us."

It was then relayed to De Boer that Latvia had held Turkey to a 3-3 draw in Istanbul, to which he replied with a hint of smugness following the criticism that came the Netherlands' away after Saturday's performance.

"We did well against Latvia then," he said with a wink.

But it was not all rosy for the Oranje, as they lost Daley Blind to injury early in the second half, the Ajax centre-back falling awkwardly as he bailed out Matthijs de Ligt and collided with Tjay de Barr.

While De Boer did allay fears of a nasty knee injury, as it initially appeared, it remains unclear how severe the issue is.

"I don't know how serious it is, but it wasn't his knee. He fell on his ankle," De Boer said.

Asked if Blind had gone to hospital, the coach added: "No, he's here, lying on the massage table. We wait and see – if it is serious, it will throw a dark cloud over this evening."

Victory moved Netherlands up to second in the group with six points from three games, one point adrift of leaders Turkey, who beat the Oranje 4-2 last week.

Netherlands had little difficulty seeing off Gibraltar in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier as their crushing 7-0 victory saw them meet coach Frank de Boer's pre-match expectations.

The Oranje were subject to criticism despite beating Latvia 2-0 in Saturday's meeting, with De Boer demanding a more clinical performance in Gibraltar, and that was exactly what he got.

Just as Latvia goalkeeper Roberts Ozols impressed at the weekend, Dayle Coleing proved a worthy adversary between the posts for Gibraltar until his goal was eventually breached just before half-time – Steven Berghuis netting in successive games for his country.

Luuk de Jong made it 2-0 with a well-taken finish early in the second half and the floodgates opened, with Memphis Depay, Georginio Wijnaldum and Donyell Malen all scoring in the following nine minutes.

Although a lull followed, Donny van de Beek and Depay added further gloss late on as the Dutch strolled to victory.

Unsurprisingly the Oranje were in control right from the start but their attempts to make an early breakthrough were unsuccessful as Coleing rose to the occasion.

The Gibraltar goalkeeper then watched gratefully as Denzel Dumfries headed wide in the 25th minute, before scooping away Davy Klaassen's close-range effort in unorthodox fashion as the hosts looked set to hold out until the break.

But Netherlands finally found a way through a minute later, Berghuis producing an emphatic finish into the top-left corner after the ball broke kindly for him in the crowded penalty area.

De Boer lost Daley Blind to injury early in the second half, though it had little impact on the dominant visitors and De Jong made it 2-0 less than 60 seconds later, steering in from Berghuis' delivery.

Depay's free-kick took a wicked deflection en route to the bottom-right corner for the Dutch's third in the 61st minute, and that was soon followed by Wijnaldum slamming in from 10 yards after Coleing parried the Liverpool man's header straight back to him.

Malen, brought on for Blind, got in on the act with a simple finish from Klaassen's squared pass.

Although the tempo dropped significantly after their fifth goal, Netherlands did add the extras in the final 10 minutes – Van de Beek took advantage of a kind bounce before converting from close range, before Depay turned in Owen Wijndal's drilled cross.

Frank de Boer is demanding a high-scoring victory when the Netherlands face Gibraltar in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Having started their campaign with a 4-2 defeat to Turkey, the Oranje responded with a 2-0 win over Latvia on Saturday courtesy of goals from Steven Berghuis and Luuk de Jong.

Head coach De Boer was disappointed his side did not win by a greater margin, though, given they had 76.5 per cent of the possession and 36 shots, with Latvia goalkeeper Roberts Ozols making eight saves.

With Gibraltar having conceded seven goals in their opening two qualifying games against Norway and Montenegro, De Boer wants a more clinical performance from his players and insists loading his starting line-up with forwards is not necessarily the correct approach.

"More players up front doesn't necessarily make the job easier," he said on Monday. "The spaces might be even more tight that way.

"We want to try to bait the opponents to leave their defensive positions, so we can profit from the open spaces through quick combinations. I don't believe that more attackers equals more opportunities.

"Look, a 2-0 victory against Latvia isn't good, especially if you look at the way we played. We should have scored at least seven times, looking at the chances we had. The same goes against Gibraltar: if you create that many chances, you need to score that many times.

"It all depends on how sharp we are. Norway have beaten them 3-0; Gibraltar lost their most recent away match 4-1.

"We need to make sure the tempo stays high. We can't let them breathe. We need to score at least five times, but preferably more."

Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong believes a resounding win could help to boost morale within the Netherlands squad as they look to build on a run of three wins in their previous four matches.

"It's always fun to be playing for your country," he said. "In these games, you can have fun too: if all goes well, you score a lot, you can make some nice combinations.

"I think it could give us a good feeling."

Georginio Wijnaldum suggested the Netherlands must be more "eager" to score after a dominant display against Latvia only resulted in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win.

Frank de Boer's Oranje bounced back from the 4-2 defeat to Turkey in their Group G opener with an excellent all-round performance in Amsterdam on Saturday.

The Netherlands had 36 shots in total – 16 more than the impressive 20 they managed in losing against Turkey – though only 11 hit the target.

Steven Berghuis and Luuk de Jong were responsible for the two goals, the former curling into the top-left corner before the latter headed in from Memphis Depay's corner.

The Netherlands had 96 touches in Latvia's box, the most since detailed Opta records began in August 2013, far surpassing the previous high of 51 (v Estonia in November 2019).

Though Latvia goalkeeper Roberts Ozols pulled off an impressive eight saves, Liverpool midfielder Wijnaldum, who had five attempts and created three chances, believes his side have to show more conviction in their finishing.

"In itself it was not too difficult tonight, finding the spaces was very easy," Wijnaldum told broadcasters NOS.

"I don't know how many balls they cleared off the line, but I think we should be a bit more eager to score.

"All in all, it is good that we have created so many opportunities. If you want to take a critical look at it, you have to say that we should have done even more to get that ball over the line."

Davy Klaassen and De Jong hit the crossbar either side of Berghuis' opener, the Feyenoord forward's first international goal in his 23rd Oranje appearance.

Meanwhile, Memphis Depay attempted a remarkable 10 shots and played seven key passes.

Captain Wijnaldum was replaced in the 79th minute, having registered an impressive pass completion rate of 90.6 per cent.

The Barcelona-linked 30-year-old was visibly frustrated but insisted that was purely down to feeling he still had more to offer.

"I was a bit disappointed," he said. "The coach and I talked about it. I really wanted to stay because I really had the feeling that I could score another goal.

"But otherwise it is nothing bad. We shouldn't make it bigger than it is."

Frank de Boer claimed a much-needed victory as his Netherlands team defeated Latvia 2-0 in World Cup qualifying.

Requiring a strong response following a 4-2 defeat to Turkey in their Group G opener, Netherlands turned in a much-improved display on Saturday.

With Steven Berghuis' first international strike, a brilliant shot from 20 yards out, having put them ahead, the Netherlands ensured victory thanks to Luuk de Jong's 69th-minute header.

The win relieves some of the mounting pressure on De Boer – taking charge of a Netherlands match in front of fans for the first time – lifting his side up to third.

Buoyed by a vociferous socially distanced crowd at Johan Cruijff ArenA, the Netherlands would have taken a sixth-minute lead through Davy Klaassen if not for Igors Tarasovs' exceptional goalline clearance.

With Janis Ikaunieks' blocked effort all Latvia managed in the opening exchanges, Klaassen had another opportunity in the 27th minute, only for his header to clatter back off the crossbar.

The pressure finally told five minutes later – Klaassen finding Berghuis, who created space on the edge of the area and curled a stunning effort into the top-left corner.

Somehow, the Netherlands failed to double their lead prior to the break, Memphis Depay curling inches wide before Dde Jong headed against the bar from point-blank range.

More profligacy followed after the restart – Klaassen then De Jong missing from a goalmouth scramble.

Vladimirs Kamess looked set to punish the duo moments later, only for his path to goal to be blocked by Owen Wijndal's perfectly timed challenge.

Any danger of a Latvia comeback was ended with a little over 20 minutes remaining, however, as De Jong atoned for his earlier misses with a powerful header from Depay's corner to get the Netherlands up and running.

Virgil van Dijk will ultimately make the decision on his participation at the upcoming Euros, according to his Netherlands defensive partner Matthijs de Ligt.

Liverpool star Van Dijk has been out since October, with the centre-back having sustained a serious knee injury after a challenge from Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Jurgen Klopp has consistently stressed caution over the return of Van Dijk, who stepped up his rehabilitation at a facility in Dubai before heading back to Merseyside.

It remains to be seen whether the 29-year-old will be fit to play again before the season is out, and as such his participation in the Euros is doubtful.

Netherlands boss Frank de Boer claimed in the build-up to Wednesday's defeat to Turkey that Van Dijk had another eight weeks left on his recovery, with the Oranje coach claiming he was not relying on the former Southampton and Celtic man to return in time for the tournament.

De Ligt, however, was less pessimistic, with the Juventus defender revealing Van Dijk is in good spirits, and will return when he feels the time is right.

"We had a meeting yesterday, [Van Dijk] was there too," De Ligt said on Friday.

"He looked very good, he seemed very fresh and free. Of course, I don't know how he feels physically, he doesn't really want to put any pressure on himself either.

"He has a clear mind and looks at it day by day. He is calm and wants to see where he's at, at moment the Euros are starting. I think it's important for him to be calm, and to be able to recuperate from his injury without any pressure from us or from the country.

"He will decide if he will be at the Euros. If he's there, he’s there. If he's not there, other guys will have to fill his shoes. But yesterday he looked well."

With Inter's Stefan de Vrij having contracted coronavirus, De Ligt's former Ajax team-mate Daley Blind partnered the 21-year-old in defence against Turkey.

It was neither of the duo's finest performances, with Burak Yilmaz scoring a hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Netherlands' World Cup qualification rivals.

Asked who he would prefer to have next to him should Van Dijk fail to make the Euros, De Ligt replied: "That's a question that’s not really relevant to me.

"In the end, it's the manager who decides who plays, what we need. In possession, Daley is one of the best defenders I have ever played with.

"Stefan plays in Italy, is more physical and is stronger than Daley. So it might also depend on our opponents. We also have Nathan Ake and other guys. There are enough options.

"I might not even be playing. That's something the manager decides, that depends on the game. We simply have to respect the manager's decisions."

Burak Yilmaz rolled back the years to score a brilliant hat-trick as Turkey withstood a fightback and consigned the Netherlands to a 4-2 defeat in their 2022 World Cup qualifying opener.

Veteran striker Yilmaz had not scored an international goal in two years prior to a first-half brace that had Turkey in control by half-time of the Group G contest at the Ataturk Stadium.

Hakan Calhanoglu's fine effort 31 seconds into the second half left the Dutch reeling but quickfire goals from substitutes Davy Klaassen and Luuk de Jong offered hope of an unlikely point with 15 minutes to go.

But 35-year-old Yilmaz wrapped up the points and made sure he was leaving with the matchball with an outstanding free-kick nine minutes from time, the visitors' miserable outing consigned by Memphis Depay's late penalty miss.

It's entirely possible the staging of the 2021 European Under-21 Championship will have passed many people by, given the fact it's taken on a somewhat peculiar format of a mid-season group stage with the knockout phase following two months later.

Originally due to take place solely in June, organisers were forced into a re-think following last year's postponement of the senior competition. It was decided to split the Under-21s' event in two, therefore avoiding a clash.

Despite the rather unconventional format, the competition will see many of the continent's most-promising prodigies on display.

The tournament, based in Hungary and Slovenia, begins on Wednesday with the Magyars hosting Germany, and we have identified some high-potential talents to keep an eye on.

Alban Lafont, France – Goalkeeper

Lafont has been a regular at this age-group level with France for many years, but a brief stint at Fiorentina in 2018-19 did not go to plan, with the Toulouse youth product freely admitting his performances "were not the best" as he secured to a loan move to Nantes ahead of last season.

Only Andrea Consigli (six) made more than Lafont's four errors leading to shots in Serie A two seasons ago, but his dependability appears to have improved considerably since returning to France, with no shots occurring because of errors by him in 57 Ligue 1 matches.

He also produced a particularly strong performance in the shock 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month, making four saves including a couple of eye-catching stops to thwart Angel Di Maria.

 

A closer at Lafont’s performances for a struggling Nantes side in 2020-21 reveals he has not had the greatest campaign. When discounting own goals and penalties by the opposition, Lafont has allowed 3.5 goals more than the ‘average’ goalkeeper would have been expected to concede in Ligue 1 this season (37 conceded, 33.5 xG on target).

The metric ‘Goals Prevented Rate’ can account for different goalkeepers facing a different volume of shots through a period of time. An example of this is that PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas has a goals prevented rate of 1.37 this season, meaning for every non-penalty goal that Navas has conceded (excluding own goals), the average goalkeeper would be expected to concede 1.37. Lafont’s rate of 0.91 this season is 10th out of 17 goalkeepers to have played 1800 minutes of French top-flight football in 2020-21.

 

Additionally, France's regular at this level knows he has a very capable understudy in Illan Meslier breathing down his neck.

Prior to his 21st birthday earlier in the month, Meslier broke the record for the most clean sheets by an under-21 goalkeeper in a single Premier League season (eight) and has since added another to that figure.

That means he has three times as many shutouts as Lafont, which is intriguing because it raises the question of why then has Meslier not conceded fewer goals?

For starters, it suggests Lafont is more consistent but also highlights that when Leeds concede, the floodgates can really burst open. With those 46 goals spread across 19 matches, it means Meslier is conceding on average 2.5 goals per game when he doesn't get a clean sheet – this drops to 1.7 for Lafont.

 

On top of that, Meslier's seven errors leading to shots is more than any other player in the Premier League this term, perhaps showing he's still in the inexperienced, nervous phase that Lafont has seemingly left behind.

Meslier's superior save percentage of 71.1 compared to 65.7 speaks to the former Lorient youngster's shot-stopping abilities, though for the time being Lafont's greater consistency looks set to keep him first-choice.

Sven Botman, Netherlands – Central Defender

A promising loan spell with Heerenveen last season alerted Lille to the talents of Ajax-owned Botman and he has been a real hit for Les Dogues since a reported €8m move, helping them to mount a serious Ligue 1 title challenge.

Lille's 19 goals conceded is the fewest in France's top tier and, while not necessarily entirely down to Botman, there's no doubt he's made his presence known as a reliable powerhouse at the back.

 

Of the 856 players across Europe's top five leagues to have engaged in at least 150 duels, Botman's 71.4 per cent success rate is the best, and that competitiveness is also reflected in his aerial prowess.

Only four of the 157 players in the continent's elite divisions to have been involved in 100+ aerial duels have a better success rate than the Dutch youngster (72.5 per cent).

While his impressive physical attributes might lead to certain assumptions about his style of play, Botman is more than a brutish centre-back, as proven by the fact his 452 ball carries – defined as a player moving five metres or more with the ball – is the fourth highest among Ligue 1 central defenders.

 

Of course, there is likely to be a glaring absence from the senior Dutch side at Euro 2020. with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp not expecting Virgil van Dijk to be ready for the tournament.

That means there is potentially a spot up for grabs in the centre of the Netherlands defence, and Botman's combination of power and elegance suggests he could be a good fit as Van Dijk's deputy.

Granted, the young defender – who hasn't been capped at senior level yet – still has a way to go to match up to the Reds star, but in the context of young defenders of a similar ilk, Botman certainly compares well and his strengths are similar to those of Van Dijk.

His aerial stats prove he's an excellent physical specimen, and his effectiveness in duels reflects the fact he's a difficult defender to beat. A strong showing here might just help convince Frank de Boer that Botman's ready to step up later this year.

Jules Kounde, France – Central Defender

Les Bleus are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in most areas, but the fact Kounde is turning out for the Under-21s in this tournament instead of the senior side exemplifies their depth in quality at the heart of the defence.

In his second full season with Sevilla, Kounde has kicked on following a hugely encouraging second half to 2019-20, so much so that he's arguably the first name on the team sheet for Julen Lopetegui.

 

His forward-thinking nature has made him key to the coach's 'Lavolpiana build-up' defensive structure, a setup attributed to Argentinian coach Ricardo La Volpe that essentially demands centre-backs carry the ball forward from a three-man backline.

Only two central defenders in La Liga have bettered Kounde's rate of 19.2 carries per 90, while there are just three who have covered more distance carrying the ball further up field than the Frenchman this term (2,774 metres).

This positivity is generally offset by Fernando dropping in to form a faux back three, while Kounde's movement up the right can often create overloads as he teams up with Jesus Navas, Sevilla's biggest chance creator (44).

 

But evidence of his progressive mentality doesn't stop there. While possessional stats can often be skewed for centre-backs, given the sheer number of simple short balls played between defensive colleagues, Kounde is clearly looking ahead, and often.

No defender has been successful with more forward passes in open play than Kounde this season in LaLiga (507), with the 22-year-old completing an impressive 79 per cent of these. Therefore, perhaps it's not surprising to learn no Sevilla player has been involved in more shot-ending build-up sequences than he has (53), demonstrating his value to their forays forward, despite not attempting the shots or making the final pass in that move.

Kounde is a prime example of how centre-backs can be just as satisfying to see in possession as your classic playmakers – in fact, that is essentially what he is developing into, a defensive playmaker of the ilk who would have looked at home in the great Barcelona teams of the past 14 years.

Pedro Goncalves, Portugal – Attacking Midfielder

It's fair to say that, when Sporting CP set out to replace Bruno Fernandes, never in their wildest dreams would they have expected what they got. Pedro Goncalves had been a key figure for Famalicao in 2019-20, but to say he's surpassed expectations in Lisbon would be an understatement.

Goncalves operates in similar spaces to Fernandes, albeit drifting towards the right a little more, and his hot streak in front of goal has helped put Sporting on course for a first league title since 2001-02.

 

In 22 Primeira Liga matches, the attacking midfielder has scored 15 goals – none of which were penalties. The 22-year-old's xG total is just 6.9, meaning his over-performance of 8.1 is the biggest across Europe's top six leagues, aside from the phenomenal Robert Lewandowski (9.3).

Of course, the chances of him being able to sustain such a run in the long-term are low, but it still highlights what a danger the former Wolves youngster poses in his current form.

 

Comparisons with Fernandes have been rife, for obvious reasons, but they show many different traits to their game.

In Fernandes' final 50 league games for Sporting, he averaged 3.4 shots per 90 minutes and 2.3 of those non-penalty shots came from outside the box – Goncalves attempts 2.6 on average each game, with only 1.1 coming from beyond the penalty area.

As such, the average quality of Fernandes' shots in his final 50 games for Sporting weren't outstanding, with his xG per non-penalty shot equating to 0.07. Goncalves' is almost double that at 0.13, suggesting he picks his moments more selectively while also taking fewer attempts.

Nevertheless, despite Fernandes' penchant for a long-range effort, he only scored four times from outside the box in his final 50 league matches for Sporting – Goncalves already has three this term from 28 fewer games.

 

The biggest difference between the pair is assists. Fernandes' 20 in his final 50 outings for Sporting dwarfs Goncalves' three in 2020-21, but interestingly their expected assists per 90 minutes isn't hugely dissimilar. Fernandes is ahead 0.29 to 0.20 in this area, but a potential explanation for this potentially lies in the respective teams they've played in.

 

The next highest-scorer for Sporting this season after Goncalves himself is Nuno Santos with six – they don't have a prolific centre-forward, whereas Fernandes was supplying Bas Dost, who netted 76 times in 84 league games for the club between 2016 and 2019.

As we all know now, Fernandes was on the trajectory of an elite-level player. He's proven this at Manchester United, though there were certainly those who were sceptical about him prior to his move.

It'll be a tough ask, but why can't Goncalves continue to defy expectations?

Fedor Chalov, Russia - Forward

Russian striker Fedor Chalov is undoubtedly one of the most experienced players involved at the tournament, with the 22-year-old having already played 115 Russian Premier League matches in addition to his 11 UEFA Champions League appearances.

Chalov burst on to the scene in Russia with CSKA Moscow at 18 years old back in November 2016 and scored in just his fifth top-flight appearance for the club versus Ural a month later.

After scoring six goals in each of his opening two league seasons at CSKA, 2018-19 was when he really began to make a name for himself in Russia - winning the league's top scorer award with 15 goals, while also posting his best-ever season tally for assists (7).

But Chalov's career hasn't kicked on as expected since then, scoring just 13 goals in 50 top-flight appearances over the past two seasons, but his performances have been stirring enough to attract the attentions of multiple Premier League clubs during the January transfer window.

 

Despite this, Chalov's numbers domestically at top-tier level are mightily impressive for a player so early in his career. Despite only being 22, Chalov's tally of 60 goal involvements since his Russian Premier League debut are the third most by a player in the competition.

Russia are certainly one of the underdogs for the 2021 Under-21 European Championship and are unlikely to top their group, having been drawn alongside favourites France. However, if Chalov can find form in the first stage of the tournament then he could be the linchpin to Russian hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages in May.

The international break might bring respite from the packed club calendar, but with Qatar 2022 now just 20 months away, top players have little chance for rest.

Still, the start of the European World Cup qualifiers brings an opportunity for the new names on the international scene to impress, particularly with more established stars unlikely to be involved in every minute of matches over these two weeks.

Several of the continent's top teams have offered first-time call-ups to those enjoying fine form and, while some were anticipated, others have left even the players themselves surprised.

We have picked through a selection of the new faces to look out for, with a sprinkling of Opta data to highlight why they deserve a chance to impress for their country.

 

Belgium: Orel Mangala and Albert Sambi Lokonga

Stuttgart's Orel Mangala has been linked with Arsenal and RB Leipzig due to his performances for Stuttgart this season. Only three midfielders have regained possession more often in the Bundesliga than the 23-year-old (166).

Also hoping to make his senior Belgium debut at the heart of midfield is Albert Sambi Lokonga, who assumed the captain's armband at Anderlecht less than a month after turning 21.

Lokonga, who could get a chance in place of the injured Axel Witsel, has regained possession 35 more times than any team-mate this season (157) and is also fourth for chances created (22).

Croatia: Kristijan Lovric

With Ante Rebic and Bruno Petkovic injured, the coming matches could offer a real chance to impress for Kristijan Lovric.

The HNK Gorica star is second in the top scorer standings in Croatia's top flight, with 15 goals in 24 appearances. With four assists also to his name, Lovric is behind only Tottenham's Europa League slayer Mislav Orsic and Ramon Mierez (both on 20) for direct goal involvements this season.

It's a seriously impressive return for the 25-year-old, particularly as he plays predominantly wide on the left of the Gorica attack.

England: Ollie Watkins

West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone may get the chance to win a first senior England cap, but a man almost certain to be given a chance in attack is Ollie Watkins.

The Aston Villa forward became the 10th Premier League player to score a hat-trick against Liverpool, and the first in a decade, in October's extraordinary 7-2 win over the reigning champions.

He has 10 in the top flight this term, while only captain Jack Grealish (17) has had more direct goal involvements than Watkins (15) in all competitions for Villa this season. Not bad for a man who was playing in England's sixth tier just six years ago.

 

Germany: Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala

Rising Bayern Munich star Jamal Musiala was expected to be named in Joachim Low's squad after he pledged his international future to Germany rather than England.

The 18-year-old, who only signed his first professional contract this month, is Bayern's youngest ever Champions League goalscorer and has already played 18 times in the Bundesliga this season.

Bayer Leverkusen's Florian Wirtz has also earned the right to shine on the senior stage. He is one of just two players under the age of 20 to be directly involved in at least eight goals across the top-five European leagues this season.

Italy: Rafael Toloi and Matteo Ricci

Brazilian-born Rafael Toloi has made it to the age of 30 without a senior international appearance, but his performances for Gian Piero Gasperini's outstanding Atalanta side made him hard to overlook.

Toloi averages seven possession regains per match for Atalanta this season and is comfortable when using the ball, completing 493 passes in the opposition half, the most of any Atalanta defender barring Berat Djimsiti.

Spezia midfielder Matteo Ricci, meanwhile, boasts 19 chances created in Serie A this season as well as 151 times winning back the ball, by far the highest tally for his team.

Netherlands: Jeremiah St Juste

Jeremiah St Juste has impressed at the back for Mainz this season, despite their involvement in a tense battle to avoid the drop.

There are only five Bundesliga defenders to win more tackles and duels combined than the 24-year-old this season (he has managed 165).

Previously a full-back with Feyenoord, St Juste brings a vital commodity to modern central defending: speed. Last season, he clocked a sprint of 22.1 miles per hour, bettered only at the time by Bayern winger Kingsley Coman.

Poland: Kacper Kozlowski

A relative unknown outside Poland, even Kacper Kozlowski himself was shocked to be called up to Paulo Sousa's squad this month.

Clearly, though, he has caught the eye for some all-action displays in the top flight for Pogon Szczecin. The 17-year-old averages 8.3 duels won and 17 passes ending in the final third per 90 minutes, each the most of any teenage midfielder in the competition.

Kozlowski, who is also renowned for a fierce long-range shot, has been linked with some of the world's biggest clubs since making his senior debut at just 15, with Manchester United said to be among them.

 

Portugal: Joao Palhinha and Nuno Mendes

Linked with Manchester City (among others), Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes has been described as the standout young talent in Portugal's top flight.

Only Wilson Manafa (49) has completed more dribbles among defenders this season than Mendes (29), who has played in all but four of the unbeaten leaders' league matches.

The 18-year-old is joined in the Portugal squad by team-mate Joao Palhinha, a robust midfielder who has won 208 duels in the Primeira Liga in 2020-21 – no player in his position has won more.

Spain: Bryan Gil and Pedri

Pedri has been a revelation for Barcelona in his first season at Camp Nou, establishing himself as a key part of Ronald Koeman's midfield despite only turning 18 last November.

He has played 42 times already in 2020-21, the most of anyone at the club, and became the youngest player to record 100 touches in a single LaLiga game for at least 15 years against Osasuna this month.

Bryan Gil, meanwhile, has been thriving on loan at Eibar from Sevilla and in January became the second player born this century to score twice in the same LaLiga match, following in the footsteps of Ansu Fati.

 

Netherlands boss Frank de Boer accepts it is unlikely Virgil van Dijk will return to action before next season and will not put pressure on the defender to be fit in time for Euro 2020.

Liverpool centre-back Van Dijk has been sidelined since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in October's Merseyside derby against Everton.

The 29-year-old returned to individual training last month, but Klopp reiterated last week he does not expect him to play any part at this year's rescheduled European Championship finals.

But De Boer, who was appointed as Ronald Koeman's successor in September, says the final decision will be made by the player himself closer to the tournament.

"Anything he can contribute to Liverpool and possibly us would be a bonus," De Boer said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"I'm not counting on it at the moment. But if it were to happen, it would be fantastic for the squad. We're going to see. I'm not putting any pressure on him at all. 

"He has to do it himself and has to trust himself. The choice is with him. When the moment comes and we know how he is doing, you go with him to see what he can do.

"Then I have to make a decision about it. We let him take it easy now and continue his recovery work. Things are going well now. Whether that will be enough, we do not yet know.

"He is on the field. There can be setbacks. And setbacks can mean that he cannot play games for Liverpool. Then I can imagine them saying, 'focus on next season'."

The Netherlands start their World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign with a trip to Turkey on Wednesday, looking to extend a five-game unbeaten run after ending 2020 on a relative high.

De Boer controversially chose to leave in-form Wolfsburg striker Wout Weghorst out of his squad for the match with Turkey, as well as the qualifiers against Latvia and Gibraltar.

Weghorst has scored 17 Bundesliga goals this season, placing him behind only Andre Silva, Erling Haaland (both 21 goals) and Robert Lewandowski (25) in the scoring charts.

But De Boer has defended his decision to omit the 28-year-old and instead put his faith in Sevilla striker Luuk de Jong, who has four goals in 25 LaLiga outings in 2020-21.

"I had to choose between Luuk and Wout. At the moment I choose Luuk," he said. "I understand very well that it is a very delicate issue - it is also a very difficult issue. 

"Certainly for Wout, but also certainly for me. Because Wout has done just fantastic, but Luuk has also done very well with the Dutch national team. 

"We are in a very short period, then you consider things and I chose Luuk at that moment.

"I also called Wout and that was terribly difficult. He was certainly not happy, let that be clear. That is also normal, but at least he made it as difficult as possible for me. 

"He knocks terribly hard on the door, let that be clear. There are already a few holes in it. It was by far my most difficult decision, but at the moment I choose other players. Some are a bit more multifunctional, for example."

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