Since the early 90’s, two of the best footballing nations to have played the game are Holland and France.
Countless players have caught the imagination of fans and media alike over the last 30-odd years, so I decided to select the best XI of each country from my lifetime and pit them against each other.
Some incredible footballers have missed out, including the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, the De Boer brothers, Patrick Kluivert, Wesley Sneijder, David Trezeguet, Robert Pires, Paul Pogba and Patrice Evra.
I’m going to justify my selections for my teams here and break down what I think would happen if the two sides had ever met each other for real.
In goal, Holland’s keeper is obvious. Edwin Van Der Sar is a two time Champions League winner and multiple time league winner in two different countries with Ajax and Manchester United. He represented Holland 130 times throughout his career and is largely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers of his generation.
For France the decision was a bit tougher. It was between two World Cup winners in Fabian Barthez and Hugo Lloris but I opted for the Tottenham man in this instance. While Barthez was supreme in his time for France, he was more prone to errors than Lloris and for me his peak didn’t last for as long. Both have exceptional reflexes and decent distribution and I don’t think the squad is any worse off regardless of which one was chosen.
In defence for Holland, one of the best central defensive partnerships ever. Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk is the best defender in the world right now and has been for the last 18 months or so, while Jaap Stam was one of the most dominant in Europe during his peak in the late 90’s/early 00’s. Physically they’re untouchable but they can also compete in a foot race and in the air. They have the ability to play out from the back too to help build attacks early.
For France, it’s a similar story. Raphael Varane is one of Van Dijk’s closest companions at the top of the game right now while Desailly was France’s leader at the back during his time in the national team. Much like Holland’s pairing, they can compete with any sort of attack that comes up against them and would be a brick wall.
The full-backs are the first point where we see an advantage for one side or the other. France’s pairing of Thuram and Lizarazu is balance personified and the epitome of what a full-back duo should be. Individually both are comfortable at both ends of the pitch and equally able to defend their flank. Both are excellent defenders in their own right and are intelligent enough to know when to attack, although Lizarazu could struggle with the physical demands of today’s game a bit more.
Holland’s options aren’t so star-studded. Former Barcelona paid Michael Reiziger and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst are both excellent professionals who won plenty during their career. Despite that, they both have their weaknesses too. Reiziger was never the best one on one defender while Van Bronckhorst was physically on the smaller side, which could be something this French side could look to exploit.
In central midfield, it would be a battle for the ages. Ngolo Kante and Edgar Davids have many similarities in their style, with both incredibly energetic and determined ball-winners who can also play with the ball at their feet too. Davids had a bit more swagger to his game but Kante’s defensive positioning is a thing of wonder. Alongside them both are two of their generation’s best as Patrick Vieira does battle with Clarence Seedorf.
Vieira made his name at Arsenal as a marauding box-to-box midfielder with an eye for goal and a bite to his tackle, while Seedorf was one of the most complete midfielders ever. His passing range, stamina, strength, creativity and striking ability meant he stood out on any pitch he was on and he would look to do similar here.
In attack, it’s two absolutely incredible variations of style, skill and quality.
For France, the new school mix with the old school as Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann partner up with Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane. All World Cup winners and all phenomenally talented, they would be able to rotate almost freely in the attacking areas of the pitch, knowing they are perfectly protected behind them.
Mbappe and Henry’s pace and goalscoring exploits would make them a scary sight for any defence that has ever existed, but especially a Holland side with obvious weaknesses at full-back. Zidane and Griezmann both have the ability to dominate a game in the hole and play killer passes from between the lines, while also carrying a goal threat of their own.
For Holland, it’s much of the same. Arjen Robben and Marc Overmars are among Holland’s greatest wingers ever, with their pace and drive while running from wide positions into the box unmatched by many. Centrally, Robin van Persie and Ruud van Nistelrooy are Holland’s two highest goalscorers ever and would be able to link together to cause plenty of damage. van Persie’s ability to drop deep and link the midfield and attack would allow more space for van Nistelrooy to do what he does best – get in the box and finish.
It would truly be a game for the ages between these two nations and it would be a fantastic spectacle. But who would win?
Looking at the sides, the glaring difference as mentioned already would be the French wingers up against the Dutch full-backs. Everywhere else on the pitch is pretty evenly matched but with France’s two best goal-threats coming against Holland’s two weaker players it just pans out that the French would be able to get a victory because of it.