(Reuters) - The Netherlands head into this week’s Nations League semi-finals with one of the best young squads the country has produced in recent years and Dutch football can once again look forward to a bright future, manager Ronald Koeman has said.
The Dutch failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup in Russia but brushed aside Germany and world champions France in the Nations League group stages to qualify for the semi-finals in Portugal.
The Netherlands’ resurgence as a force in Europe has been helped by a new generation of talent and the emergence of players such as Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, who Koeman says can shape Dutch football for years to come.
“We have a great future,” Koeman told The Guardian. “In the last few years it is the best generation. But they are just starting. They have great talent.
“We always brought good young players through the system from what we have in Holland. We are a country that will always produce good young players. Always.
“Sometimes in football it’s like this: talented young players coming through the system. The atmosphere around the national team has changed and that was down to the players and how we started in the Nations League.”
De Jong and De Ligt were part of the Ajax Amsterdam side that reached this season’s Champions League semi-finals and Koeman said De Ligt’s partnership with Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk in defence had given the Dutch a strong foundation.
“We have the best centre defenders with De Ligt and Virgil,” the 56-year-old added. “They are top defence players. That’s great because you build the house, always, from downstairs. You don’t start with the roof.
“We are on a good way back to where we would like to stay as a country.”
The Netherlands face England in the second Nations League semi-final on June 6, a day after hosts Portugal play Switzerland in the first semi-final. The final and third-place playoff are on June 9.
Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Jennings