De Ligt return to boost Netherlands against Austria, De Boer confirms

By Sports Desk June 16, 2021

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."

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