Soccer-Criticism makes Dutch players sharper as pundits weigh in

Soccer Football - Euro 2020 - Group C - Netherlands v Austria - Johan Cruijff ArenA, Amsterdam, Netherlands - June 17, 2021 Netherlands' Matthijs de Ligt in action with Austria's Sasa Kalajdzic Pool via REUTERS/Olaf Kraak

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands may be the only side at the European Championship to have guaranteed themselves first place in their group after successive victories but there has been criticism of their performance, which defender Matthijs de Ligt said only served to sharpen them up.

The Dutch beat Austria 2-0 in Amsterdam on Thursday to ensure top spot in Group C and book a round of 16 clash in Budapest on Sunday, June 27.

But De Ligt was singled out for a verbal lashing by Marco van Basten, a former player and coach of the national side and scorer of an iconic Euros goal in 1988 on the way to the Netherlands' only major tournament triumph.

Van Basten said De Ligt, who returned to the team after a groin injury and played in the middle of a five-man defence, needed to better communicate and anticipate, and he pointed out several lapses of concentration by the player in a post-match analysis.

"He is the guardian of the defence and needs to lead a lot more. You have to assert yourself. He went to Italy to learn how to defend, but I don't think he learned much there," said Van Basten on Dutch television.

The 21-year-old told a news conference on Friday: "I'm happy with it when someone like Mr. van Basten says something, you then go and see what he means."

"He also talks about communication. We are really working on that, but of course we can always do better. Criticism is not bad, it also makes you sharper."

The Dutch edged Ukraine 3-2 in their opening game of Euro 2020, but they let a two-goal lead slip before scoring a dramatic late winner. Thursday’s victory over Austria did not stretch them as much.

"In the end I was disappointed. Against a team like Austria you have to create seven to eight chances," added Rafael van der Vaart, another of many former internationals serving as pundits on Dutch media.

"I did not see any real progress. Yes, we did not give anything away, but that never looked likely anyway against this weaker opponent," he told NOS television.

The Netherlands meet North Macedonia in Amsterdam on Monday in their last group fixture.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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