AMSTERDAM, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Iceland can complete a fairy tale qualification for the European Championship finals on Thursday but must first overcome a much-changed Netherlands team determined to catch up after a poor start to the qualifying campaign.
Thursday’s Group A game at the Amsterdam Arena presents the tiny island nation, with a population of less than half a million, a chance to be among the first to book a place at next year’s tournament in France.
It will be their first major championship appearance, having narrowly missed out on the last World Cup in Brazil.
Iceland lead the group standings with 15 points, two more than the Czech Republic and five more than their Dutch hosts, who play a first game under new coach Danny Blind.
His appointment is as a result of the resignation of Guus Hiddink, who was never able to regain the confidence of both the Dutch football association and the public after the shock 2-0 loss in Reykjavik last October.
Blind has moved quickly to stamp his own image on the team by changing captains, making Arjen Robben the new leader and demoting Robin van Persie to deputy.
“This squad has the necessary quality to break out of our current position,” said Robben on joining up with the rest of his teammates.
He warned he felt his game was back on form after recent injury setbacks.
“I‘m fit again and that’s important for me. The form is back. I felt that, playing (for Bayern Munich) against Bayer Leverkusen on the weekend,” the 31-year-old said.
A win on Thursday will open the door for the Netherlands to yet squeeze into one of the top two qualifying places but if Iceland win for a sixth time in seven qualifiers then they will have secured a historic feat.
“Since beating Holland we have realised that with this generation of players we can reach the finals,” said Dutch-based goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson on Tuesday.
”Naturally we are going to give our best but I think we can play the match without any fears. We actually have little to lose.
“We must win on Sunday against Kazakhstan to qualify and we are on course for that.” (Editing by Sudipto Ganguly; email@example.com; +27828257807; Reuters Messaging: Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org)