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Sympathy for Dick Advocaat

Marcotti's Musings

Danny Blind's use of Matthijs de Ligt for Netherlands was selfish

Matthijs de Ligt had made two top-flight starts for Ajax before Danny Blind put him in the squad against Bulgaria.

Danny Blind is out as coach of the Dutch national team and Fred Grim has replaced him. (From Blind to Grim: insert your own joke here.)

That was the fallout from the Oranje's 2-0 away defeat to Bulgaria, which left them fourth in Group A, six points behind France, three behind Sweden and two behind Bulgaria. Automatic qualification is likely beyond them but they still control their destiny in terms of a playoff spot given they have home dates against Bulgaria and Sweden coming up in September and October. Still, anyone who saw the debacle in Sofia will have little doubt Blind had to go.

What stuck out most of all was his decision to start Matthijs de Ligt, a 17-year-old centerback who has made two top-flight starts for Ajax plus another four in the Europa League. De Ligt became the youngest Dutch player to ever start a competitive game, which is pretty huge in a country that hasn't been shy in the past about throwing in the kids.

In fairness to Blind, his top three options in central defence (Virgil van Dijk, Stefan de Vrij and Jeffrey Bruma) were all unavailable. But he still had guys like Wesley Hoedt, who is 23 and enjoying a great season at Lazio, and Joel Veltman (25, capped 13 times) available to him. Instead, he chucked in de Ligt and it blew up in his face, badly.

De Ligt got lost for Spas Delev's opener, misjudging the ball and looking clumsy as he turned the wrong way and got his legs tangled. That was after five minutes. It got worse shortly thereafter when he failed to close down Delev, who uncorked a long-range strike to double Bulgaria's lead. Never before in a competitive match had the Dutch been two goals down so early.

Blind replaced de Ligt at half-time and his solution in the second half, playing with two giant target men (Bas Dost and Luuk de Jong) wasn't just ugly and predictable -- it was distinctly un-Dutch. It was, no matter how you want to look at it, an all-out debacle for a footballing nation still smarting from missing out on Euro 2016.

De Ligt has the physical and athletic tools to be a very good footballer and you hope he has the mental strength to bounce back from this as well. In truth, he should never have been put in this position.

It's one thing to blood a gifted youngster -- as France did with Kylian Mbappe this year or England did with Marcus Rashford last year -- by having him playing a friendly or having him come on late in a game. But to throw him into the deep end in a key qualifier the way Blind did ranks somewhere between irresponsible and selfish.

To read more of Gabriele Marcotti's thoughts on what happened over the previous week, click here.


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