France Must Conquer Dutch Man-Mountain in Bid for Qualification | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 13.06.2008
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France Must Conquer Dutch Man-Mountain in Bid for Qualification

It was in the 51st minute of the Netherlands-Italy game that Gennaro Gattuso probably realized he had bitten off more than he could chew. Here was one of soccer's hardmen facing an opponent who would not back down.

Orlando Engelaar in action aganist Italy

It takes a big man to boss the Italian midfield but Dutch star Engelaar managed it

Gattusso, the rugged AC Milan midfielder, knows how to intimidate opponents with his fierce tackling and uncompromising nature, but when he faced up to Engelaar near the centre circle at the Stade de Suisse in Berne, he resembled a terrier snarling at a Doberman Pinscher.

The Italian number eight gave his Dutch opposite number a quick slap just to prove his bite is still as dangerous as his bark, earning him a yellow card in Italy's disastrous Group C start.

But at 1.96 meters and weighing more than 90 kilos, the muscular Dutch midfield giant could almost take Gattuso's attention as a compliment. By then Engelaar and teammates had left their own mark on the Italians, who were trailing by two goals.

Now two-time European champions France, training in the Swiss town of Chatel-St-Denis with the snow-peaked Alps on the horizon, have this Dutch mountain of a man facing them in Berne on Friday.

A big man to miss but the Italians manage it

Italy's Gennaro Gattuso (R) challenges Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder

Gattuso tries his luck with the more lightweight Sneijder

They probably did not have Engelaar in their sights before the tournament started. But while Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart were shining in midfield against the Italians, Engelaar was going about his game in a noticeably neat and businesslike fashion to make one or two clubs around Europe sit up.

Engelaar was one of the few unknown quantities in Marco van Basten's squad going into Euro 2008, and at the age of 28 was playing only his seventh game for the national side against Italy.

After the withdrawal before the tournament of veteran Clarence Seedorf and with Bayern Munich's Mark van Bommel also out of favor, van Basten had been looking for someone to sit in midfield, shield the defense and distribute the ball. Engelaar helped fill the role alongside Nigel de Jong and appears to have solved a problem.

Former Dutch star Ruud Gullit had already predicted the late bloomer could be one of the tournament surprises, praising the player's passing ability as well as his overall disciplined game.

Dutch legend Gullit knows his stuff

Orlando Engelaar

Ruud Gullit identified Engelaar as a surprise star

"At these kinds of tournaments, these days there are no real surprises - everybody knows everybody. But we do have one guy in the Dutch camp who will give people a surprise: Orlando Engelaar," he said ahead of the tournament.

"He is a good player, no, a really good player, a playmaker. He is a big, powerful guy and uses the ball very well...Engelaar could be a surprise for many people."

Engelaar is, in fact, an erstwhile striker who played for his local Rotterdam club Feyenoord in his youth but whose career had since faltered somewhat.

He left the Netherlands to play for Genk in neighboring Belgium, but returned in the summer of 2006 to the Netherlands to join Twente Enschede.

Position switch was a turning point

Orlando Engelaar

A former defender, Engelaar now dominates midfield

It proved to be the turning point. Twente coach Fred Rutten persuaded Engelaar to play in midfield where he was made captain and led the team to Champions League qualification.

"Fred Rutten has given me the chance to develop myself," Engelaar told De Telegraaf newspaper. "He picked me up when I had a less productive period at Racing Genk. He told me that I could become a good footballer in the Netherlands in a position behind the striker."

Engelaar's form at Twente did not go unnoticed by van Basten, who gave him his international debut in a friendly against South Korea on June 2, 2007. A year later he looks a sound choice in a more defensive role.

Rutten has now left Twente to take over at Schalke 04 after Euro 2008, and would dearly like to take his old captain with him.

The Bundesliga club is interested in a deal but has been haggling with Twente over a transfer demand of some 8 million euros ($12.5 million), a price which could well now go up if Engelaar and the Dutch continue as they began against Italy.

Gallas promises a more attack-minded France

The Dutch will face a more attacking France side after a disappointing goalless draw against Romania, France defender William Gallas said ahead of the crucial game.

Gallas was in positive mood at the team's training camp at Chatel-St-Denis, saying the team was still in a good position to progress from Group C.

Thierry Henry

Guess who's back?

France were given a boost when captain Patrick Vieira and striker Thierry Henry came through a training match unscathed.

Both players missed Monday's 0-0 draw against Romania in Group C because of thigh injuries and hope to be back against the Dutch in Berne on Friday.

Henry scored one goal and set up most of the others in a 7-0 run-out against a youth side in a 45-minute game at the Stade de Lussy in Chatel-St-Denis.

Gallas did not take part in the game as coach Raymond Domenech gave some of his reserves a run-out, including Marseille's 20-year-old Sami Nasri who bagged two goals.

Offensive Dutch will provide more space, says Gallas

France's William Gallas, right, and David Trezeguet argue on the field during the World Cup

Gallas, right, hopes the next match will be a happier one

Gallas predicted a better performance by the French when they come up against the Netherlands. "It will be better for us to play against the Dutch because they are more attacking and we will have more space than against Romania," he said.

The 30-year-old Arsenal captain had few problems at the back dealing with an unambitious Romania side but expects a bigger challenge in Berne on Friday against a Dutch outfit buoyed by the 3-0 defeat of world champions Italy.

Gallas said Domenech had wanted France to avoid defeat against Romania and as a result Les Bleus began the tournament with caution.

"We played with the brakes on because we did not want to concede a goal. Not only one player but the whole team will have to take the brakes off," he said. "I am confident. It is a difficult group but we know we have the quality."

Gallas added he was disappointed some French supporters began whistling during the game against Romania. "We need the supporters behind us to push us forward," he said.

Gallas would have had no complaints about the several thousand, mainly local schoolchildren, who gave a noisy welcome to the team in the local Chatel-St-Denis ground nestled in the foothills of the Alps.

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