France and the Netherlands meet in a glamor friendly today that will give some outsiders the chance to stake a claim for a place at the World Cup in Brazil in June.
Les Bleus are looking to pick up where they left off back in November last year, when a stunning 3-0 win against Ukraine at the Stade de France saw them secure their qualification for the World Cup finals after a 2-0 loss in the first leg.
Coach Didier Deschamps named a strong squad for the game, although veteran defender Eric Abidal and Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri were notable absentees, and with Franck Ribery still recovering from an operation on a burst blood vessel in his buttocks, Real Sociedad winger Antoine Griezmann is set to be handed his debut.
The 22-year-old, who has scored 15 goals in La Liga this season, says he has learned from the episode in October 2012 when he and four colleagues in the France under-21 squad were given long bans from representing their country.
The quintet breached squad rules to take a taxi from the Normandy city of Le Havre to Paris — a distance of 200km — for a night out just before an important game, but Griezmann has worked hard to recover his reputation since then.
“I have learned a lot. I am another person now. That is in the past. I have proved that I can be a good professional on and off the pitch,” Griezmann said on Monday. “I am not putting any pressure on myself. [The World Cup] is quite far away. I will need to keep working hard for my club and keep up the good statistics. Everybody has given me a warm welcome. This is the most beautiful shirt that you could pull on.”
It is France’s last game before Deschamps names a provisional 30-man squad on May 13 for the finals, in which the 1998 world champions will meet Honduras, Switzerland and Ecuador in their group.
Deschamps admitted that the victory against Ukraine must be used as a reference point.
“I can’t recreate the same context, but we need to maintain the same spirit and motivation,” the coach said, while confirming that the game is “a chance for the youngsters to gain some experience.”
The case is the same for Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal, who has left out several notable names for the game, including Fulham goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and AC Milan midfielder Nigel de Jong, as well as injured Hamburg SV midfielder Rafael van der Vaart.
Instead, it will be a chance for younger players, such as 21-year-old Ajax midfielder Davy Klaassen, to impress Van Gaal, although established names such as Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar are also in the squad.
“We follow nearly 50 players, who all have a chance of being chosen,” said Van Gaal, who looks set to be replaced at the helm of the Oranje by Guus Hiddink after the World Cup.
Therefore De Jong, for one, remains a contender to go to Brazil, with Van Gaal simply preferring to see what Feyenoord’s Jordy Clasie and PSV Eindhoven’s Stijn Schaars can offer.
“This says nothing about De Jong’s status,” said the coach, who is preparing for a tough World Cup group containing Spain — who beat the Netherlands in the 2010 final — Australia and Chile.