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."

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.

 

Marco van Basten launched stinging criticism of Matthijs de Ligt's defending and said he must become a leader after the Netherlands qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2020.

De Ligt recovered from injury to make his first appearance of the tournament in a 2-0 victory over Austria at Johan Cruijff ArenA on Thursday, helping the Oranje win Group C.

The Juventus centre-back had a comfortable evening at the centre of the Netherlands' back three, winning 80 per cent of his duels and not misplacing any of his 40 passes in an assured performance.

De Ligt won more duels (124) than any other Juve centre-back in Serie A last season, but the Turin giants only kept three clean sheets in the 27 matches he featured in.

Netherlands great Van Basten says the 21-year-old still has a lot to learn and wants to see him take more responsibility.

He told NOS: "He is a central defender and must convey more leadership.

"He must make himself heard, assert himself because he has to lead the defence. Instead, he just runs after his man, leaving a huge hole. 

"De Ligt went to Italy. to learn how to defend, but I don't think he learned much there."

The Oranje sealed their place in the next stage of the tournament with one group game to spare, but Van Basten thinks they will have to change their tactics.

"If we look at how many times [Maarten] Stekelenburg has to kick the ball, this is not a good thing. It becomes a kind of combat football," the former Milan striker added.

"From behind, you need to have more vision and control to advance while playing football so you can dominate the game. But I haven't seen it so far."

Belgium and the Netherlands joined Italy in booking their place in the knockout stages of Euro 2020 with victories over Denmark and Austria respectively.

The world's top-ranked side Belgium had to bounce back from a goal down to beat an inspired Denmark, with both teams paying tribute to Christian Eriksen after 10 minutes as the midfielder continues his recovery from a cardiac arrest.

Roberto Martinez's side need a point in their final Group B match to make certain of top spot, but the Netherlands are already through as Group C winners after seeing off Austria.

Ukraine also picked up all three points against North Macedonia in Thursday's action – just their second-ever victory at the European Championships.

Using Opta data, we take a look at some of the best facts from across the day's action.

Ukraine 2-1 North Macedonia: Shevchenko's men end losing Euros streak

Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk were on target for the second match running to end Ukraine's six-game losing streak at the European Championships.

With Yarmolenko and Yaremchuk's first-half goals, Ukraine became the first nation to have the same two players score in their first two games at a single Euros.

Ezgjan Alioski pulled one back at the second attempt after his penalty was saved, making it two goals in three games – as many as in his previous 17 for North Macedonia.

His penalty was given after a foul on Goran Pandev, who – at at 37 years and 325 days – is the oldest player to win a spot-kick in the Euros since data was first recorded in 1980.

Ruslan Malinovskyi failed to convert from 12 yards late on in a game which saw both sides win a penalty in the competition for the first time since England v France in 2004.

It means four of the six penalties taken at Euro 2020 have not been converted. The last tournament with more was Euro 2000 (five).

Denmark 1-2 Belgium: Red Devils bounce back from early setback

Belgium showed why they are ranked number one in the world as they recovered from an early setback to make it 11 wins from their last 12 group games at major competitions.

However, they had to do things the hard way after Yussuf Poulsen struck early on in Copenhagen.

Poulsen opened the scoring after 99 seconds – the second-earliest goal ever in the tournament, behind only Dmitry Kirichenko for Russia against Greece in 2004 (65 seconds).

The one shot on target Belgium managed in the first half came via Dries Mertens, who was earning his 100th cap for his country – the fifth Belgian to reach that landmark.

But the half-time introduction of Kevin De Bruyne for Mertens transformed the Red Devils, the playmaker setting up Thorgan Hazard's leveller and then drilling in the winner.

De Bruyne's fantastic strike was teed up by Eden Hazard, who joins the Manchester City star as the two European players to assist a goal at each of the last four major tournaments.

Belgium survived a nervy finish as they won their first two European Championship matches for the first time, while Denmark have lost their first two for the first time since 2000.

Netherlands 2-0 Austria: Faultless Oranje ease through

The Netherlands followed up their opening-game win against Ukraine with a routine victory against Austria in Amsterdam.

It is the third time the Oranje have won their opening two Euros matches, having previously done so in 2000 and 2008, when they exited the competition at the semi-final and quarter-final stage respectively.

Frank de Boer's men are now unbeaten in their last nine matches at major tournaments, which is the longest run by a European nation since Portugal went 12 without defeat between 2014 and 2018.

Memphis Depay opened the scoring for the Netherlands from the penalty spot, the Lyon forward's eighth goal for his country since De Boer took charge last September, with only Belgium's Romelu Lukaku scoring more (10) across all competitions for a European side over that period.

Denzel Dumfries added the second goal and is just the second Netherlands player to net in his first two appearances at the Euros after Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2004, this after the right-back failed to score in his first 19 senior caps.

One of the unsung stars for the hosts was Dumfries' fellow defender Matthijs de Ligt, who completed 100 per cent of his 40 passes – a record for a Netherlands player in a European Championship match since records began in 1980.

Matthijs de Ligt will be back in the Netherlands team to face Austria in their second match of Euro 2020 on Thursday after recovering from an injury.

The Juventus defender missed out on the Oranje's 3-2 win over Ukraine on matchday one due to a groin strain, and they were hardly convincing defensively without him.

Ukraine had failed to score with any of their previous 72 shots at the Euros before Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk netted with consecutive efforts just four minutes and six seconds apart.

Those goals wiped out the Netherlands' 2-0 lead, though Denzel Dumfries did ensure Frank de Boer's men took all three points with his 85th-minute header, their latest winning goal at the Euros since the Dutch coach himself converted an 89th-minute penalty in Euro 2000.

The Netherlands' average starting position of 52.7 metres from their own goal represents the second-highest defensive line at the Euros so far (Poland, 53.2m), meaning that although dominant on the ball, they are potentially susceptible to being caught in behind.

But it will be hoped De Ligt's assuring presence negates some of the risk against Austria, who showed a desire to press high up the pitch in their 3-1 win over North Macedonia on Sunday, as they allowed the tournament debutants just 10 passes per defensive action (PPDA) in an attempt to suffocate them.

When asked if De Ligt would return, De Boer told reporters: "Yes, he will play, no doubt about it. Did you see any doubt in my eyes? [But] I can't tell you [who will be dropped]."

Daley Blind's withdrawal against Ukraine was a poignant moment, as the Ajax defender left the pitch seemingly in tears as he later revealed he had contemplated sitting out the match entirely after seeing his friend and former team-mate Christian Eriksen suffer a cardiac arrest for Denmark.

It stirred significant emotions in Blind, who in 2019 was fitted with an implanted defibrillator after being diagnosed with heart muscle inflammation in the wake of suffering dizzy spells in a Champions League match.

It remains to be seen whether Blind is mentally right to feature, but De Boer acknowledged that playing De Ligt on the left of the back three would not be ideal.

"I understand the reason he's not so comfortable on that side of the pitch, so it's not the best way to start and I take this into account, it's normal," he said.

It seems likely Wout Weghorst will lead the line once again, however, with the Wolfsburg striker something of a surprise choice in attack for the Ukraine game after Luuk de Jong had played the role with regularity beforehand.

Weghorst scored and showed a willingness to lead the Netherlands' press, with his two tackles the joint-most in the Dutch team and a solid contribution to their 20 high turnovers, the most by any team in the tournament so far.

"At the start I didn't want to change much, I had a good feeling with all the players. I wanted to play with the guys who qualified and that's the way I continued," De Boer continued.

"I think when you look at his [Weghorst] preparation and his matches before the tournament, I preferred Luuk as the striker.

"But I decided Wout because he performed really well in the last month and I think he deserved it with what he can bring for the team against a good team. He did not disappoint."

Could Matthijs de Ligt leave Juventus?

De Ligt joined Juve from Ajax in 2019 but his future has been a topic of discussion.

Barcelona were strongly linked with him before he left the Eredivisie and are reportedly still keen admirers.

 

TOP STORY – DE LIGT A BARCA TARGET

Barcelona are keen on signing Juventus defender Matthijs de Ligt, according to Le10 Sport.

LaLiga giants Barca have already brought in Manchester City duo Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia, while they are also said to be interested in Memphis Depay of Lyon and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

But it is claimed they are particularly eager to further bolster their defence in addition to Garcia's arrival, though they could face competition for De Ligt – Manchester United have long been linked with the Netherlands international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Mundo Deportivo reports Leicester City are considering a move for Barca outcast Philippe Coutinho. It would be a reunion for Brendan Rodgers and Coutinho after working together at Liverpool.

Atletico Madrid are eyeing Hakan Calhanoglu as an alternative to Udinese star Rodrigo de Paul. LaLiga champions Atletico want De Paul, who has also been linked with JuveInter and Leeds United. Should they miss out on the Argentina international, Calhanoglu is an option – the Milan star's contract expires at the end of June.

United have held further talks with Borussia Dortmund in their pursuit of Jadon Sancho, says Fabrizio Romano. Dortmund reportedly want £81million (€95m), though United are currently unwilling to pay more than £60m (€70m). Liverpool and Chelsea have also been linked previously.

- Romano also reports Gianluigi Donnarumma's contract with Paris Saint-Germain until 2026 has been agreed. The Italy international goalkeeper is set to join PSG on a free transfer following the end of his Milan deal.

- According to Corriere dello Sport, Milan are in talks to sign Real Madrid pair Brahim Diaz and Alvaro Odriozola on loan. The Rossoneri have also been linked with Luka Jovic and are seemingly poised to secure the permanent signing of Fikayo Tomori from Chelsea as well.

Matthijs de Ligt will watch from the sidelines as both the Netherlands and Ukraine aim to end miserable runs in their Euro 2020 opener on Sunday.

De Ligt missed the Oranje's final warm-up friendly due to a groin issue and will not recover in time to face Ukraine in Amsterdam.

Coach Frank de Boer said: "The game comes a little too early. We don't want to take any chances. We've got two more group games.

"If it had been very important, he could have played. He's very close to it."

It is a blow to a Netherlands side who have not won at the European Championship since the 2008 group stage.

The Dutch were quickly beaten in the knockout phase of that competition, lost all three matches at Euro 2012 and then failed to qualify four years later.

Centre-back is suddenly a potential area of weakness, with Virgil van Dijk missing the tournament, while De Boer only confirmed the identity of his starting goalkeeper – 38-year-old Maarten Stekelenburg – on Saturday.

Regular number one Jasper Cillessen, cut from the squad following a positive coronavirus test, was the only ever-present in qualifying besides De Ligt.

Ukraine might make for accommodating opponents for Stekelenburg, though, having themselves lost five in a row at the Euros and failed to score in each defeat.

Andrey Shevchenko, now their coach, is the only player to have ever scored for Ukraine at the finals, as they have failed with 67 shots since his 2012 brace against Sweden.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Netherlands – Memphis Depay

Even with De Boer switching to an unpopular 5-3-2 formation, Depay will be the chief threat in attack. Although Georginio Wijnaldum (eight) outscored his team-mate in qualifying, Depay was involved in a goal every 38 minutes (six goals and seven assists in 495 minutes) – the best rate of any player involved in five or more.

Ukraine – Andriy Pyatov

If Depay is as involved as the Netherlands hope, that will mean another busy outing for Pyatov. The Ukraine goalkeeper saved 88.6 per cent of the shots he faced in qualifying (31 of 35), which was the best rate of any keeper to appear in six or more games.


KEY OPTA FACTS

– This is the first meeting between the Netherlands and Ukraine at a major tournament (World Cup or European Championship). The Dutch are unbeaten in their two friendly encounters – winning 3-0 in Rotterdam in May 2008 and drawing 1-1 in Donetsk in August 2010.
– The Netherlands are playing their first major tournament game at the Johan Cruyff Arena since the Euro 2000 semi-final against Italy, a game in which the Dutch failed to score despite having 31 shots and 71 per cent possession (0-0 after extra time, 1-3 on penalties).
– Since and including 1988, only Germany (six) have reached the semi-finals of the European Championship more often than the Netherlands (four). However, the Netherlands have not made the final four since 2004 and they have not won a game in the tournament since 2008.
– After winning their first game at the European Championship (2-1 v Sweden, 11 June 2012), Ukraine have subsequently lost their past five. In fact, only Yugoslavia have had a longer losing run in the history of the tournament (six in a row, from Euro 1968 to Euro 1984).

The 12-month delay to Euro 2020 has provided an easy angle for debate ahead of the finals this week.

Which teams might have benefited from the postponement? Italy are back in the groove, Spain were surely buoyed by a 6-0 win over Germany, and England continue to develop exciting young talents.

It works both ways, though, as Germany might have preferred the tournament to go ahead in 2020, prior to their heaviest competitive defeat and before Joachim Low confirmed his exit plans.

Meanwhile, neither situation necessarily suits the Netherlands.

The Oranje have a youthful, talented, newly settled side, but there is the suspicion they have already peaked.

Ronald Koeman, appointed in February 2018, had the Netherlands playing some thrilling, effective football in his first 18 months in charge, narrowly losing the showpiece match at the Nations League Finals while easing to Euros qualification.

Since then, the coach has departed, a number of his young charges have seen their careers stall somewhat and Virgil van Dijk, the team's standout star, has been ruled out by injury.

It means there is plenty of scepticism as Frank de Boer leads the Dutch into their first major tournament in seven years.

 

COACH ACCUSTOMED TO CRITICISM

Koeman left the national team to be appointed by Barcelona. It is highly unlikely De Boer could walk into such a role regardless of his success with the Netherlands.

Since leaving Ajax as a four-time Eredivisie champion in 2016, the coach has endured short, miserable stints with Inter, Crystal Palace and Atlanta United.

De Boer won just 36.4 per cent of his Serie A games, the second-worst rate of an Inter boss this century.

Only Gian Piero Gasperini was less impressive as he went winless, an unfortunate feat De Boer would repeat at Palace as the Eagles did not even score or earn a point in his four Premier League outings.

Atlanta faded from MLS Cup champions to also-rans under De Boer, too, before he was handed an unlikely Oranje opportunity, only to go four without a win at the start of his tenure.

The Netherlands' fortunes have since improved, winning five of seven – albeit while losing a key World Cup qualifier in Turkey and scraping to a friendly draw against Scotland.

Off-field faux pas have also persisted, including media conference mix-ups involving Queensy Menig and Donny van de Beek while Jasper Cillessen was controversially cut from the Euros squad following a positive COVID-19 test.

"It seems clear that things need to get better," De Boer acknowledged after the Scotland game, although he was more optimistic in the aftermath of a subsequent 3-0 win against Georgia.

Having made only two changes to his 5-3-2 line-up – one in goal, the other enforced by injury – De Boer declared: "We're ready."

 

YOUNG STARS' STUNTED PROGRESS

Six players who started the Nations League Finals matches should make De Boer's XI for the Ukraine game, but these stars are not necessarily in the same shape as they were in 2019.

Matthijs de Ligt, Daley Blind and Frenkie de Jong were all coming off an outstanding campaign with Ajax in which they reached the Champions League last four, swatting aside Real Madrid and Juventus on their way before coming within seconds of the final.

Van de Beek, called from the bench against England, was also part of that superb club side.

While Blind remains in Amsterdam and will surely now only start if De Ligt is injured – as he was against Georgia – the other three, who should fit well within De Boer's fluid formation, moved on with mixed success.

De Ligt's first season with Juve was tough, including two errors that led to shots (including one to a goal) and three penalties conceded, before he improved in 2020-21.

De Jong followed a similar path of slow progress at Barca, the highlight of his Camp Nou career so far – now under Koeman – a goal and two assists in April's Copa del Rey final.

That single-game contribution matched Van de Beek's meagre haul for his entire debut season at Manchester United, concerningly. A year behind his two younger international team-mates, the midfielder joined United in 2020 and his three goal involvements came across 36 games but just 15 starts.

Van de Beek's season has ended in miserable fashion, forced to withdraw from the Euros squad this week. Far from a regular at international level, too, this might be a bigger setback for the player than for the Netherlands.

 

DETERMINED TO MAKE THEIR MARK

The absence of Van Dijk means the other Ajax graduates unquestionably maintain key roles in the defensive third, but the Netherlands are relying on older heads in attack, even if they are without the sort of superstar Dutch forward of years past.

This country once had Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy born on the same day; now they rely on a midfielder and a converted winger for their goals.

It was effective in qualifying, though. Georginio Wijnaldum, 30, was their leading marksman with eight, while Memphis Depay, 27, either scored or assisted every 38 minutes – six goals and seven assists in 495 minutes the best rate among the 54 players to have five or more goal involvements.

Depay netted twice against Scotland and once against Georgia, along with an assist, and will be eager to establish himself on the European stage.

The Barca-linked Lyon forward was an under-19 international when the Netherlands last appeared at the European Championship in 2012, while he made only a single start at the World Cup two years later.

Wijnaldum was at least a regular at Brazil 2014, scoring in the third-place play-off, but both he and Depay have been robbed of a huge chunk of their major tournament careers by the team's failings.

Even with a kind group-stage draw, as they chase a first Euros win since the first round in 2008, the Oranje will need Wijnaldum and Depay to deliver. Neither should be lacking motivation.

A stunning move for Cristiano Ronaldo could be in the works.

The Portugal captain may end up back with a former club in a swap deal.

The price for Manchester United would be high.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO SWAP DEAL RUMOURED

If Manchester United want to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford, they may have to surrender Paul Pogba.

La Gazzetta dello Sport reports Juventus would consider using the 36-year-old forward in a swap deal for Pogba, who has a year left on his contract.

The question is whether United would part with the 28-year-old France midfielder in return.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City could land Harry Kane via a cash-plus-swap deal that sends Gabriel Jesus to Tottenham, the Daily Star reports. 

- Arsenal are interested in Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde and Bayer Leverkusen's Edmond Tapsoba, according to The Athletic. 

- Barcelona have not given up in their attempts to sign Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus, Marca reports.

- Lazio have joined Roma as suitors for veteran centre-back Jerome Boateng with the Germany international set to leave Bayern Munich. 

- Granit Xhaka is a target for Jose Mourinho's Roma, and Arsenal have said they want £17million for the midfielder, La Gazzetta dello Sport reports. 

- Pedrinho will leave Benfica before next season, ESPN reports, with Shakhtar Donetsk the likely destination for the 23-year-old Brazilian. 

- Crystal Palace will speak to former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo about replacing Roy Hodgson, The Sun reports. 

Matthijs de Ligt says he has had no contact with Barcelona and is happy at Juventus as he feels like a "fish in water" in Turin.

De Ligt endured a difficult second season at Juve, suffering injuries and spending time on the sidelines after testing positive for coronavirus.

The Netherlands centre-back has been linked with a move after the Bianconeri could only finish fourth in Serie A, resulting in head coach Andrea Pirlo being replaced by Massimiliano Allegri.

Barca are among the clubs reported to keen on De Ligt, but the 21-year-old is not seeking pastures new.

He told ESPN Netherlands: "I am very happy at Juve. I feel like a fish in water.

"Despite the team performances not being as good, I feel good on the field and appreciated. Would they want to let me go? There are plenty of clubs that have money problems, but you should ask the club."

Asked if Barca could be his next club, the former Ajax man said: "I don't know."

He added: "That makes no sense now. It is not important to me. Nobody has contacted me."

De Ligt said in the same interview he had opted against taking a COVID-19 vaccine as he wants to be "in charge" of his body.

He then took to social media on Saturday to state that he will be taking the jab.

He tweeted: "In my recent interview, I was not clear with my response. In order to clear any doubts: I am absolutely in favour of the COVID-19 vaccination and will take it as soon as possible."

In my recent interview, I was not clear with my response. In order to clear any doubts: I am absolutely in favour of the COVID-19 vaccination and will take it as soon as possible.

— Matthijs de Ligt (@mdeligt_04) May 29, 2021

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).

Manchester United wanted Jadon Sancho ahead of the 2020-21 season.

But, United were unable to prise Sancho from Borussia Dortmund.

United, though, are reportedly still pursuing the England international.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT SANCHO

Manchester United are lining up a bid for Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to the Daily Star.

United were heavily linked with Sancho at the start of the season but a move did not materialise, while the Red Devils have since been mentioned as suitors for fellow Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

But United have reportedly cooled their interest in Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich target Haaland as they make Sancho their top transfer priority.

 

ROUND-UP

- Diario AS claims Juventus have rejected a renewed effort from Barca to sign Netherlands centre-back Matthijs de Ligt.

- Udinese goalkeeper Juan Musso, City defender Nathan Ake and RB Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer are on Jose Mourinho's list of targets as he prepares to take charge of Roma, reports Gazzetta dello Sport. Corriere dello Sport also claims Lille midfielder Renato Sanches is wanted by Mourinho.

- Mundo Deportivo says Barca are continuing to chase Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravernberch. Barca have also been linked with Liverpool's soon-to-be free agent Georginio Wijnaldum, who has since emerged as a reported target for Bayern.

Chelsea are frontrunners to prise Harry Kane from Tottenham according to Football Insider. Kane has been linked with United, City, Barca, Paris Saint-Germain and Madrid, while Chelsea have also emerged as a possible destination for Bayern forward Robert Lewandowski.

Will Lionel Messi commit to Barcelona or move on? 

The Argentine is out of contract in June and suitors are swirling. 

Paris Saint-Germain appear poised to make a bid. 

 

TOP STORY – PSG LINE UP MESSI BID

PSG are prepared to offer Messi an "unbeatable" contract to make a sensational move from Barca, according to a report from TNT Sports. 

The report claims the Ligue 1 outfit will offer Messi a two-year deal with an option for a third year. 

The club will attempt to convince Messi that joining PSG will give him more chances to win titles. 

 

ROUND-UP 

- Jurgen Klopp could turn to his former club for a boost if Mohamed Salah leaves Liverpool, as Bild reports a bid for Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho a possibility for the Reds. Manchester United also are eyeing Sancho after a failed move for him last year.

- United also remain interested in reuniting Erling Haaland with Ole Gunner Solskjaer, according to the Telegraph. Haaland, now with Dortmund, played for Solskjaer as a teenager at Molde. 

- Tottenham are looking at a pair of options in the shape of Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro and Fulham centre-back Joachim Andersen, according to the Daily Mail. 

- Juventus centre back Mathhijs de Ligt could be headed to Barcelona, reports Sport, which also says Villarreal goalkeeper Marc Vidal is a possibility for the Camp Nou club. 

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