BELFAST (Reuters) – Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk has warned his teammates Northern Ireland will be tough to break down when the two countries meet in their key Euro 2020 qualifier on Saturday.
“Northern Ireland are a tough side to beat. They are not a side that is easily broken down, certainly not in Belfast” he told a news conference on the eve of the game at Windsor Park.
“We’ll need to be really good and to show our particular qualities.
“But we are up for the game and prepared for everything. We expect in the beginning they will come storming out at us,” Van Dijk predicted.
The Dutch need just a point to qualify for the finals and playing in next year’s tournament is eagerly anticipated by the Liverpool defender.
“I’ve waited as long time for this opportunity,” he said after the Dutch missed the last European Championship finals in France, plus the World Cup in Russia last year.
“We would like to make sure of our Euro place as quickly as possible. No one needs to motivate us about that.
“Qualification is a dream and we then we want to achieve another dream when we get to the finals,” Van Dijk added.
A final decision on whether both Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum will play would only be made hours before Saturday’s kick off, coach Ronald Koeman said at the same news conference.
But he suggested their potential absence would be no problem for the Dutch, even though a home win in Belfast could turn the group outcome on its head.
“Wijnaldum trained with us for half the session on Thursday and Depay for a bit,” he said.
Wijnaldum had been battling with ‘flu while Depay has a thigh injury.
“I’ll make a final decision on the type of injury and whether it’s worth the risk. This is no World Cup or European Championship final.
“The season is also far from finished,” Koeman added.
The Dutch lead Germany in the Group C standings with a better head-to-head record as both stand on 15 points from six games.
Northern Ireland could steal a march on the Dutch if they win on Saturday with a 2-0 scoreline but would realistically also need to beat Germany away in Frankfurt on Tuesday to qualify.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson)