Two new coaches take their respective nations into battle for the first time in competitive action as World Cup qualification Group D kicks off with a potentially enthralling match between the Netherlands and Turkey in Amsterdam on Friday evening (7:30pm BST).
The home team will be coached by Louis Van Gaal, appointed in the wake of Bert Van Marwijk’s resignation following the Netherlands’ poor Euro 2012 campaign. The functional yet uninspiring football that had led the nation to the final of the 2010 World Cup failed to produce similar results at the Euros and with a new coach comes a new style.
Best Odds to win this match:
8/15 Netherlands (BetVictor), 17/5 Draw (BetVictor),
6/1 Turkey (Betfred, BetVictor)
One of the primary criticisms of Van Marwijk was the degree to which he favoured destructive players in the centre of the midfield. His reign was synonymous with the partnership of Nigel de Jong and Mark Van Bommel.
Van Gaal immediately addressed this concern by employing the more creative Rafael Van der Vaart alongside De Jong in his only match in charge to date, a 4-2 friendly defeat to Belgium. Both of those players are, however, missing from his first competitive squad. Van Gaal has suggested that their recent transfers – Van der Vaart to Hamburg, De Jong to AC Milan – left them in the wrong frame of mind to compete at the level required of them.
In their place come two younger midfielders: Leroy Fer and Kevin Strootman. Fer has enjoyed a strong start to the Eredivisie season with Twente and has performed well for the Netherlands U21 side; Strootman has been on the verge of the national team first eleven for the last couple of years and was an unused member of the Euro 2012 squad.
Both could start alongside Wesley Sneijder in a three-man midfield, offering industry and mobility alongside the inventive Inter Milan number 10.
In forward areas, Van Gaal can call on the likes of Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin Van Persie, so scoring goals should not be a problem. The defence stacks up less well to scrutiny, however, and could very well prove to be the Netherlands’ weak link during the qualification campaign.
The first coach hoping to take advantage of those defensive frailties will be Adbullah Avci. Appointed following Guus Hiddink’s failure to lead Turkey to Euro 2012, he has overseen four victories and three defeats in seven friendlies to date.
Recognised as a coach who heavily favours an attacking approach, his side scored in all but one of them: a 2-0 defeat to Austria in their most recent outing.
With the likes of Mehmet Topal and Nuri Sahin dictating play from deep and the imaginative Arda Turan and prolific Burak Yilmaz – 33 goals for Trabzonspor last season; 3 in 5 for the national team this year – further forward, Turkey certainly carry a potent attacking threat.
They don’t look particularly solid defensively, though, having conceded nine times this year, with Avci unable to settle on a consistent back-line. None of his defenders took part in all seven friendlies and only one appeared in more than four. There are also concerns about the goalkeeper Mert Gunok, culpable for both goals conceded against Austria.
With both teams strong in attack, yet relatively weak defensively, it is most likely both will find the back of the net on Friday. The current best odds for this are Evens with SkyBet.
The Austria match also exposed another Turkish weakness: their inability to deal with heavy pressing from their opponents. Austria’s first goal came as a result of harrying the Turkish defenders in possession, eventually forcing an error from Gunok, while they also created other opportunities through winning the ball back high up the pitch.
Van Gaal is a career-long advocate of pressing deep into opposition territory and will send out his team to do just that from the first whistle on Friday. The Netherlands are likely to come out of the traps strong, and therefore backing them to score before the 38th minute, at 5/6 with Bet365, represents solid value.
With the Netherlands most likely to draw first blood, the first goalscorers market has potential for profit.
Following his heroic hat-trick, that salvaged victory from the jaws of the defeat, for Manchester United against Southampton last weekend, Van Persie currently leads the betting (at 7/2 with Bet365) but is unlikely to start in his favoured central striker position, if indeed he starts at all.
The best bet is therefore Huntelaar, preferred by Van Gaal for the Belgium friendly and in hot form with two goals in two for Schalke. His best odds are currently 9/2 at Bet365.