ARGUABLY one of the picks of the opening round of UEFA Nations League (UNL) games is the 128th Low Countries Derby between Belgium and the Netherlands. It is Belgium that trail in the all-time H2H record (W41, D31, L55), but two more unbeaten clashes (W2, D6 currently) would see The Red Devils match the longest undefeated run in this fixture, a record which stands at ten and is held by the Dutch.
The trophyless ‘Golden Generation’ of Belgium finished fourth in the last UNL finals after defeats to eventual winners France and recent European champions Italy. Roberto Martínez’s men sailed through the last UNL group stage with five wins from six games (L1) and perhaps tellingly, the Belgium coach rated this competition as “challenging but exciting” which is contrary to the opinion of many figures within the game.
One of those figures is Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal, who branded the competition as “crazy” with his side facing four games in 11 days. The iconic Dutch boss returns to the dugout following his successful cancer treatment and with a nine-game unbeaten run ahead of this (W6, D3), the Oranje should be fired up for the challenge posed by one of their fiercest rivals.
Much like Belgium, the Netherlands lost just once in their last UNL group campaign (W3, D2) but missed out on top spot by only one point to eventual third-placed finishers Italy. That defeat was in a home game though, with the Dutch showing great character to remain unbeaten on their travels despite conceding first within the opening 20 minutes twice (W1, D2).
Players to watch: Unlike his manager, Belgium star Kevin De Bruyne has branded the UNL “unimportant”, but the playmaker may show us why he picked up the Premier League ‘Player of the Year’ award here after contributing 15 goals and eight assists this season. As for the Netherlands, Memphis Depay will be looking to add to his four-goal UNL haul after hitting at least twice in five of his six scoring games during the recent World Cup qualifiers.
Hot stat: Martínez and Van Gaal have faced each other on the touchline five times as Premier League managers, with the current Dutch boss winning on four occasions (L1).
PREDICTION: BELGIUM TO WIN