# opposition eye
Kenny sends his scouts to Paris as virus-hit Netherlands face France in Ireland's qualifying group
Ireland’s group gets underway tonight.

THIS IS THE first time Ireland and the Netherlands have been in the same qualifying group since the 2002 World Cup campaign, which Roy Keane almost single-handedly made memorable. One of the many moments that jut out in the memory was Keane’s bridling at the food on offer to the Irish squad the night before a clash with the Dutch.

“Do you think Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is eating fucking cheese sandwiches?”, asked Keane. It was made clear to the FAI that it was a rhetorical question. 

Two decades later, the cheese sandwiches might not have been a bad idea for the Dutch, given they have been laid low by some dodgy chicken curry. 

De Telegraaf reported yesterday that all of Cody Gakpo, Mathias De Ligt, Sven Botman,  Joey Veerman and Bart Verbruggen have, in the newspaper’s words, “been felled by the chicken curry”, and left the squad. 

Group B is a five-team group so the first of Ireland’s gap nights is the opening round of games, when they will look on as their four rivals open the campaign.

uefa-european-football-championship-football-france-v-netherlands-training-and-press-conference-france Matthieu Mirville / Dppi Kylian Mbappe at the pre-match press conference. Matthieu Mirville / Dppi / Dppi

To begin with the two sides below Ireland: Gibraltar are the group fodder but Greece were the second-highest-ranked side Ireland could have drawn from the fourth pot. Now managed by Gus Poyet, Greece topped their Nations League group and so are guaranteed a backdoor playoff to the Euros regardless of what happens in this daunting group. 

Greece’s record under Poyet has been strong, and they have generally favoured playing a 4-3-3, changing from the back three/five they played under their previous manager. It would be a major surprise if Greece open with anything other than a win: Gibraltar don’t even have home advantage. They are playing their home games this year in Faro, Portugal, so Ireland will at least be spared a trip to that strange, plastic pitch squashed between the airport and the foot of the Rock. 

The main event however is, of course, the clash between France and the curry-afflicted Dutch. 

Stephen Kenny won’t be flying to Paris for the game, though his chief opposition analyst Stephen Rice and performance analyst Gary Seery will be present. Kenny saw both sides at the World Cup in Qatar, and is not anticipating a radical change of approach from France. 

“I am not expecting them change that much”, said Kenny at an event yesterday announcing Circle K as a new FAI partner.

“There was a slight tactical modification between 2018 and 2022, but I see them being quite similar to how they were at the World Cup. The game against Holland on Friday gives us a chance to assess that. They obviously have some players who have emerged who maybe played peripheral roles at the World Cup and who are excelling with their clubs. They might come into the team, but I am only speculating, we won’t know until Friday night and Monday night. And will they make changes between Friday and Monday? It’s difficult to gauge that.” 

France have lost some of their World Cup winners: Raphael Varane and captain Hugo Lloris have retired, while Presnel Kimpembe, N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Lucas Hernandez, and William Saliba are all injured. 

Olivier Giroud is still there, however, though whether he keeps his place remains to be seen: the fringe players to whom Kenny refers are mostly forwards, especially Randal Kolo Muani of Eintracht Frankfurt and Marcus Thuram of Borussia Mönchengladbach. 

Kylian Mbappe, meanwhile, has taken over from Lloris as captain, reportedly putting Antoine Griezmann’s nose out of joint in doing so. Mbappe said at yesterday’s pre-game press conference that he sought out Griezmann for a chat, saying he understood his disappointment. Mbappe also issued a magnificent dismissive farewell to French Federation president Noel le Graet, who quit last month after harassment allegations. 

“We need to congratulate him as he did not only do bad things, but now he is no longer part of the FFF or news around the French team.”

The Dutch are far more difficult to predict. Ronald Koeman is in charge now as Louis van Gaal stepped away after the World Cup, and the food poisoning has further depleted a squad that has already lost Frenkie de Jong to injury.  

Koeman qualified the Dutch for Euro 2020 but left to take the Barcelona job: poorly timed, given the circus he walked into in Spain. When he was sacked by Barcelona he intended to retire as a coach, but admitted he couldn’t resist a return to the Dutch job. 

“I am a football man. Doing nothing at all wouldn’t suit me.” 

doha-katar-09th-dec-2022-firo-december-9th-2022-football-soccer-fifa-world-cup-2022-qatar-world-cup-2022-qatar-world-cup-2022-qatar-quarterfinals-netherlands-argentina-scramble-pack-f Alamy Stock Photo Virgil van Dijk clashes with Leandro Paredes during the World Cup quarter-final between the Netherlands and Argentina. Alamy Stock Photo

He intends to revert to the Netherlands’ characteristic 4-3-3, after Van Gaal broke from the habit of a lifetime and set up with a back three. Despite the absence of so many players, Koeman can at least rely once again on Gini Wijnaldum, who has recovered from the broken leg that kept him out of the World Cup. 

The Netherlands are the group’s top seeds, with France – despite playing in the last two World Cup final – second seeds because of their poor record in a Nations League campaign they used for experimentation. 

The Netherlands’ number of absentees makes France warm favourites for tonight’s meeting in Paris: if Ireland are to pull off the near-impossible and qualify from this group, it would be no harm if France started off with a win and allow Ireland get ever-so-slightly closer to the Dutch coat-tails. 

Euro 2024 Group B fixtures 

France vs Netherlands (KO: 7.45pm; Live Virgin Media Two) 

Gibraltar vs Greece (KO: 7.45pm) 

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