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The France-Netherlands Football Rivalry: Europe's Collision Course Revisited

Updated on May 23, 2020
Antonio Martinez1 profile image

Antonio Martinez graduated from Montclair State University with a BA in History and a double minor in Journalism and Russian Area Sudies.

Players of France and the Netherlands walk out onto the field at Stade de Wankdorf Suisse in Berne, Switzerland during a Euro 2008 match. The Netherlands won 4-1 to book a place in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
Players of France and the Netherlands walk out onto the field at Stade de Wankdorf Suisse in Berne, Switzerland during a Euro 2008 match. The Netherlands won 4-1 to book a place in the quarterfinals of the tournament. | Source

During World Cup qualifying, one match is always bound to be anticipated from fans and neutrals worldwide. People have their appetites whetted when two exceptional powers meet, with the potential of booking an automatic ticket to the World Cup. However, yet, these two nations can be great rivals without all of the emotion that goes in a traditional sporting rivalry.

In recent years, France and Netherlands met twice during 2018 World Cup qualifying, as well as twice during qualifying in the UEFA Nations League. A third-place team from the last World Cup failed to bounce back after missing out on Euro 2016 by finishing third in the qualifying group. However, the Netherlands made up for that failure by topping its three-team group to reach the UEFA Nations League in Portugal on June 2019.

The teams first met in 1908, and this heavyweight battle had seen early high-scoring matches during the first several games before the nations met in a competitive fixture for the first time in 1981.

Fun with Offense during the Early Years

France and the Netherlands first met on May 10, 1908, as both nations prepared for the upcoming Summer Olympics. It would prove to be a vital win for the Netherlands en route to its bronze medal at the tournament later that year. In that 1908 meeting, Edu Shethlage scored twice to guide the Netherlands to a 4-1 victory over France. However, France and the Netherlands did not meet again until after World War I. The Netherlands rose to become a significant power when it finished fourth as hosts of the 1920 Summer Olympics in football when both France and the Netherlands met in 1921.

He only earned five caps for the Netherlands in two years, but it was in an upcoming Olympic football venue where Jan van Gendt has his signature moment come in this battle. His hat-trick came at Paris's Stade Pershing as his performance, coupled with a two-goal game by Harry Rodermond, gave the Netherlands an emphatic shutout. For two years, France often struggled in their matches. It would get much worse on Apr. 2, 1923. Four players each scored two goals in this match: Wim Roetert, Evert van Linge, Jaap Bulder, and Wim Addicks. The Netherlands had its most significant win as it defeated France 8-1.

Eight years later, France, one of four European participants at the 1930 World Cup, would eventually become a relevant footballing nation. It still could not overcome the Netherlands despite scoring first on a Robert Mercier goal. Wim Langendaal scored a hat trick in the first half as the Netherlands looked poised to complete another rout against France. However, that would not be the case. This player would eventually become one of two players to play on France's first three World Cup squads (1930, 1934 and 1938). Emile Veinante scored twice in 15 minutes to close the gap, only for the Netherlands to hold on to win 4-3.

In 1934, France and the Netherlands would both participate in the World Cup in Italy. Before both nations headed to Italy, France and the Netherlands had one last game. They would both meet in Amsterdam's Olympic Stadium, and France would finally defeat the Netherlands. He was a leading star for FC Rouen for nearly a decade, and Jean Nicolas notched a hat-trick as France won 5-4.

Dutch players posed ahead of a benefit match against France on Mar. 12, 1953. The Netherlands' 2-1 victory against France sparked the road to professionalism for the Netherlands.
Dutch players posed ahead of a benefit match against France on Mar. 12, 1953. The Netherlands' 2-1 victory against France sparked the road to professionalism for the Netherlands. | Source

An Important Match on the Road to Professionalism

France and the Netherlands may have faced each other in 23 official matches as of 2014. However, the most significant game between the countries is not considered an official event due to one of Europe's worst weather disasters.

The Netherlands suffered significantly when a devastating flood hit the area around the North Sea Flood on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 1953. The death toll reached 1836 people, most coming from the Zeeland province. Six weeks later, France hosted a match against a Dutch team made up of primarily professional players. After World War II, the Netherlands was in its infancy in developing professional players, and many of the Dutch players played in France as the Netherlands prohibited professional players within the country.

Among the participants in this match included Bertus de Harder (a member of the 1938 World Cup squad), Kees Rijvers, and Bram Appel (members of the 1948 Olympic team). Five days earlier, the Netherlands lost 2-1 to Denmark in another match held in Rotterdam. This time at Paris' Parc des Princes, the Netherlands trailed 1-0 when de Harder tied the game on a 58th-minute goal. Then Appel, who, along with Theo Timmermans, helped orchestrate bringing this game, scored the winning goal in the 81st minute.

An estimated 8000 people from the Netherlands traveled to watch their country defeat France 2-1.

With that result, professionalism became a reality in the Netherlands by 1954.

It became fitting that on the 50th anniversary of the nation allowing professionalism, the Netherlands hosted France at Rotterdam's De Kuip Stadium. This game featured Edwin van der Sar, Rafael van der Vaart and Roy Makaay. However, despite the star-studded lineups, both countries played to a scoreless draw. However, this match would also be the start of one player's career for the Netherlands' national team.

He came on to replace van der Vaart in the 67th minute, and in doing so, Nigel de Jong earned his first cap for the Netherlands.

1981: Dutch Heartbreak

Qualifying for the 1982 FIFA World Cup marked the first time that the Netherlands and France met in a competitive fixture. The Netherlands, runners-up from the previous two World Cups, looked to reach a third consecutive World Cup. However, the Netherlands started qualifying with two straight losses at the Republic of Ireland and Belgium before a comfortable 3-0 victory over Cyprus.

A month after that victory over Cyprus, the Netherlands hosted France on Mar. 25, 1981 at Rotterdam's Feyenoord Stadium by a player appearing in just his second match for the Netherlands. His first cap for the Netherlands came two months before the 1978 World Cup against Tunisia, and in the 47th minute, Arnold Mühren scored his first ever goal for the Netherlands. It would be enough to give the Netherlands a crucial victory.

Mühren had a decent 1981 year in which he guided English club Ipswich Town to a UEFA Cup victory over Dutch club AZ Alkmaar. Mühren hoped to help the Netherlands reach another World after France also lost two straight World Cup qualifiers heading into the team's meeting on Nov. 18, 1981.

The Netherlands needed just one point to reach a third straight World Cup and were in a good position after halftime finished scoreless.

One play determined the fate of both nations. For the Netherlands, it meant elimination from the World Cup. Less than three weeks later, France qualified for the 1982 World Cup along with Belgium.

Dennis Bergkamp of the Netherlands takes a shot as France's Lillian Thuram (15) watches during a match in Liverpool, England. France defeated the Netherlands to advance to the semifinals of Euro 1996.
Dennis Bergkamp of the Netherlands takes a shot as France's Lillian Thuram (15) watches during a match in Liverpool, England. France defeated the Netherlands to advance to the semifinals of Euro 1996. | Source

1996: 27 and Counting for France

Luck was a theme during the Netherlands' run to Euro 1996, along with a little bit of chaos. The Netherlands would be the final team to qualify for Euro 1996, needing a playoff to participate in England. The site of that playoff came at Liverpool's Anfield Stadium.

Then, with a chance to go through to the quarterfinals, the Netherlands suffered one of its worst losses at a European Championship. Only a Patrick Kluivert goal against England save the Netherlands from a group stage exit The Netherlands' reward would be a quarterfinal showdown at Anfield against Group B winners France.

It would be the site where the Netherlands lost a quarterfinal.

Having survived thanks to Kluivert, the Netherlands looked to snap France's 26-game unbeaten as France last lost a match on Nov. 17, 1993 (its shocking loss to Bulgaria). That streak included a 1-0 victory over France at Galgenwaard Stadium in Utrecht, Netherlands, in which Patrice Loko scored the only goal of the match. Almost 17 months later, both countries met again in a game that featured numerous up and coming stars from both countries came down to defense. Both countries produced decent defensive displays with each country producing only one offensive play in the first half.

Both countries looked to spark their offensives as the Netherlands and France used substitutions to send in Clarence Seedorf and Christophe Dugarry, respectively. Still, both defenses kept the attack at bay for the rest of regulation, where Seedorf had a chance to win the match in regulation, only for Bernard Lama to save his attempt.

It would not be the first stop by Lama against Seedorf, however, as the game went into extra-time and a penalty shootout. With each country scoring on its three first attempts, Seedorf hoped to put the Netherlands ahead. Lama saved Seedorf's effort, and it would pave the way for Laurent Blanc to score the winning penalty kick.

2000: A Significant Result

When France and the Netherlands met at Euro 2000 on June 21, 2000, both countries clinched quarterfinal berths. France only needed a draw to win the group as both countries put on an impressive display in this match.

It took France eight minutes into the game. France took advantage of a Johan Micoud corner kick that Dutch goalkeeper Sander Westerveld missed entirely. The kick found Christophe Dugarry, which Dugarry headed in for his seventh international goal. However, France's lead lasted only five minutes. He went on to eventually finish as the joint top goalscorer at Euro 2000, and in the 13th minute, Patrick Kluivert launched a fierce shot past goalkeeper Bernard Lama. The 1-1 score remained until Micoud helped France break the tie again. This time, Micoud found Sylvain Wiltord at the penalty area's edge. Wiltord's shot would get in courtesy of David Trezeguet, and France headed into halftime up 2-1.

However, the game would turn early in the second half on two straight Dutch possessions.

Following Patrick Viera's foul on Edgar Davids, the Netherlands capitalized on a set-piece. In the 51st minute, Frank de Boer scored on the ensuing free kick from 35 yards.

Eight minutes later, Boudewijn Zenden received a pass from Westerveld and shot just past Lama to put the Netherlands ahead. France had opportunities for the tie as they substituted Dugarry for Youri Djorkaeff. However, France only had one significant attempt on goal in the 75th minute, when Westerveld saved a Trezeguet attempt.

There would still be time for history, particularly for one player on a roster at a seventh major tournament here at Euro 2000. When he came on replace Dennis Bergkamp in the 78th minute, Aron Winter equaled Ruud Krol's record for most caps by a Dutch player. Winter would be on the field when the final whistle blew as the Netherlands won Group D with the 3-2 victory as well as the Netherlands' first victory over France in 19 years.

The Netherlands Robin van Persie begins to celebrate after scoring past France's Lionel Coupet. It was the second goal of the game as the Netherlands won 4-1 to clinch Group C at Euro 2008.
The Netherlands Robin van Persie begins to celebrate after scoring past France's Lionel Coupet. It was the second goal of the game as the Netherlands won 4-1 to clinch Group C at Euro 2008. | Source

2008: Nightmare at Berne

At Euro 2008, the Netherlands made use of its home away from home as it played three games at Stade de Suisse in Berne, Switzerland. The Netherlands won all three games it played at the stadium, including its second match in Group C in which the Netherlands did more than assure themselves of a quarter-final berth.

The result against France also confirmed the Netherlands as group winners in what many predicted to be a group of death.

The Netherlands looked to continue its scoring form after stunning Italy four days earlier 3-0. The Netherlands would not take long to score the first goal. In fact, the Netherlands only needed nine minutes to open the scoring. It came courtesy of a Rafael van der Vaart corner kick. His inswinging kick found Dirk Kuyt. Kuyt headed the ball past goalkeeper Lionel Coupet for his eighth international goal.

Kuyt almost added a second goal 11 minutes later after France's Lilian Thuram misdirected a header but did not capitalize. As for France, they pushed for an equalizing goal in hopes of revitalizing its Euro 2008 campaign. Florent Malouda, Sidney Govou, and Franck Ribery each had a scoring chance, Before halftime, Patrick Evra had France's last scoring chance in the first half, but Andre Ooijer blocked the attempt.

Despite leading 1-0 to start the second half, the Netherlands tried to catch France off guard on a counterattack. Thus, manager Marco van Basten opted to substitute Orlando Engelaar for Arjen Robben. Ten minutes later, the Netherlands used another substitution to replace one striker with another.

Both substitutions paid off.

Four minutes after coming on for Kuyt, Robin van Persie doubled the Netherlands lead after Ruud van Nistelrooy launched a ball toward a speeding Robben on the left side. Van Persie volleyed in the ensuing cross. France did cut the lead in the 71st minute after Willy Sagnol struck the ball toward Thierry Henry. However, the French celebrations lasted only 60 seconds when Robben launched a tight left-footed shot toward the net's roof. France attacked desperate to make the game closer, but the Netherlands just added to France's misery.

He scored the Netherlands' second goal four days earlier, and Wesley Sneijder ended the scoring as the Netherlands won Group C after only two games.

The 4-1 loss remains France's worst defeat in a European Cup.

Recent Meeting and What to Expect

Most recently, the Netherlands began 2014 on March 5 by losing 2-0 at Paris' Parc des Princes. Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi scored with nine minutes of each other in the first half as the two nations were preparing ahead of the upcoming World Cup three months later. As such, both countries fielded some players making their international debut.

Two French players happened to be on the World Cup squad in Brazil later that year.

French coach Didier Deschamps included him in place of Samir Nasri despite his suspension for visiting a Parisian nightclub while playing in France's under-21 squad. On Feb. 27, Antoine Griezmann got a call-up from Deschamps and would play in the match against the Netherlands. Also earning his first cap was a player who a year earlier was part of France's Under-20 squad that won the World Cup in Turkey: Lucas Digne. He came on to replace Patrice Evra in the second half.

Digne would help make a critical play against Ecuador three months later that saw Antonio Valencia show a red card as France finished as a quarterfinalist at the World Cup.

The 2-0 victory was France's first victory against the Netherlands since February 1997.

Now, both nations eagerly await their fixtures, notably the Netherlands. After an embarrassing performance in missing out on Euro 2016, the Netherlands are keen to make amends. One thing is for sure: these upcoming fixtures will add to what has become an interesting battle of European nations looking for glory.This rivalry evolved from the infancy of amateurism in the early 20th century. Now, these two countries have displayed some of the world's best professional players, especially come Oct. 10, 2016.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Antonio Martinez


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