ZEIST, Netherlands (AP) — A small plane flew over the Netherlands’ European Championship training ground on Saturday pulling a banner that read in Dutch: “ Frank. Just 4-3-3! ”
“That’s not something you see every day,” Netherlands captain Georginio Wijnaldum said on the eve of the team’s Euro 2020 opener against Ukraine on Sunday.
The aerial antics in the central town of Zeist is the latest contribution to an ongoing national debate about which formation coach Frank de Boer should play, with many die-hard fans insisting it should be the attacking 4-3-3 setup that they believe is woven into the country’s soccer DNA.
Whoever paid the pilot for the ploy is going to be disappointed, however. De Boer said he will start Sunday’s match at the Johan Cruyff Arena with what he describes as a 3-5-2 formation. That means three defenders, five midfielders and only two forwards.
Some argue that it is a counter-attacking setup designed to stifle opponents and hit them with counterattacks. They want more of the swift-passing, attacking soccer they consider the country’s signature style and argue that 4-3-3 is the blueprint.
De Boer responded that his 3-5-2 formation is designed to push forward, with a five-man midfield including a player on each flank stationed high up the field — functioning more as wingers than as backs.
The debate has been going on for years. When the Netherlands last appeared at a major tournament, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, then-coach Louis van Gaal did the same thing. He started with a 5-3-2 system and switched to 4-3-3 as what he called “Plan B” if his team fell behind. The tactics propelled the Netherlands to the semifinals, where the team lost to Argentina on penalties.
De Boer, who is coaching the national team at his first major tournament, was unmoved by the criticism from above.
He joked that he’s also hired a plane to pull a banner reading: “Thanks for the tip, but it remains 3-5-2.”
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