Netherlands v France
16 November 2018
De Kuip, Rotterdam
Nations League

Undisputed Official and Unofficial World Champions France aim to defend the UFWC title for a fifth time when they travel to De Kuip in Rotterdam to face a Netherlands side in mixed form, in the fifth round of Group Stage matches of the inaugural UEFA Nations League.

Since failing to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Russia, the Netherlands have found some success under Ronald Koeman, most notably a 3-0 thrashing of Germany earlier in the Group Stage. However, they have struggled to string together results, and the absences of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder in the national team mean that this is a Dutch side with a mammoth rebuild to undertake if they are to return to their former status as European supergiants.

Their task, however, is a particularly daunting one, as they face a French side that are not only champions of the world, but are undefeated in 15 internationals, dating back to a 3-2 friendly loss to Colombia in March.

With the likes of Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann on peak international form, the Dutch will face a gargantuan task if they are to claim the UFWC title for the first time since the previous FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

The Game
The penultimate match of League A, Group 1 in the UEFA Nations League sees a critical three points up for grabs. France currently top the group with seven points, while the Netherlands sit second with three, and a game in hand on the reigning world champions. Germany are bottom of the group with one point.

For the Dutch, nothing less than a victory will sustain their hopes of advancing to the knockout stages of the inaugural Nations League. Anything less than three points for the Oranje sees France top the group. A French victory puts the Netherlands at risk of relegation to League B if they cannot achieve a result against Germany later in the week.

At the beginning of this tournament, the Dutch were seen as obvious favourites to be relegated from the group. They will not want to let their advantage over Die Mannschaft slip with a defeat against Les Bleus in this match.

The Holders
France became both Official and Unofficial Football World Champions back in July, winning the title from Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup Final in Moscow.

They have since defended the title four times, although not always in the spectacular fashion that we come to expect of Les Bleus at their best. Alongside 2-1 victories over the Netherlands and Germany have been a scrappy 0-0 draw with the Germans in Munich and a 2-2 friendly draw with Iceland, in which Kylian Mbappe saved the hosts from embarrassment in Guingamp in the dying minutes.

Nonetheless, they still hold the title, and the like of Mbappe, Griezmann, Pogba and Dembele will be key to their success in yet another Nations League outing. Whether we will see the clinical France of the World Cup or the scrappy, oftentimes dull outfit that took the pitch in Munich and Guingamp remains to be seen, but France are a class act either way and will be tough for the Dutch to post a victory against.
Should France retain the UFWC title, their sixth title defence will be in a friendly against Uruguay at the Stade de France on November 20.

The Challengers
The Netherlands, in the midst of one of the most forgettable eras in their footballing history, are beginning to gain some traction with their young squad. The likes of Memphis Depay and Virgil van Dijk are stepping into leadership roles, and impressive performances from Georginio Wijnaldum and Ryan Babel amongst others mean there is promise amongst this rebuilding side. A 3-0 drubbing of Germany is evidence of that.

However, their form remains inconsistent. The Dutch haven’t managed consecutive victories since the futile end to their World Cup qualifying campaign, with losses to England and France the lowlights of a difficult period for Dutch football.

The Oranje last held the title at the semi-final stage of Brazil 2014, when they bowed out of the tournament on penalties to eventual runners-up Argentina. Since then, the Dutch have failed to qualify for two major tournaments. However, they remain one of the most successful UFWC sides of all time, winning 50 title matches to be the fourth-ranked nation on the UFWC rankings.

If the Netherlands depose the title-holders, they will defend the title against Germany in the final group stage match of the UEFA Nations League in Gelsenkirchen.

Form
Netherlands last five:
• 1-1 draw v Belgium (A) – Friendly, 16/10/2018
• 3-0 win v Germany (H) – UEFA Nations League, 13/10/2018
• 1-2 loss v France (A) – UEFA Nations League, 9/09/2018
• 2-1 win v Peru (H) – Friendly, 6/09/2018
• 1-1 draw v Italy (A) – Friendly, 4/06/2018
France last five:
• 2-1 win v Germany (H) – UEFA Nations League, 16/10/2018
• 2-2 draw v Iceland (H) – Friendly, 11/10/2018
• 2-1 win v Netherlands (H) – UEFA Nations League, 9/09/2018
• 0-0 draw v Germany (A) – UEFA Nations League, 6/09/2018
• 4-2 win v Croatia (N) – FIFA World Cup, 15/07/2018

Head to Head
Games played: 27
Netherlands: 10
Draw: 3
France: 14
Last five:
• France 2 – 1 Netherlands (UEFA Nations League, 9/09/2018)
• France 4 – 0 Netherlands (FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, 31/08/2017)
• Netherlands 0 – 1 France (FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, 10/10/2016)
• Netherlands 2 – 3 France (Friendly, 25/03/2016)
• France 2 – 0 Netherlands (Friendly, 5/03/2014)

Prediction
France to win by a goal

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