Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk has some important decisions to make about his first-choice lineup for the European Championship and only three friendlies left to make them.
Who will play at left back? Can he squeeze Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar into the same forward line?
Van Marwijk will use Saturday’s match against Bulgaria to tinker with a team largely unchanged since its last major tournament match — the 2010 World Cup final in Johannesburg, which it lost 1-0 to Spain.
The Dutch coach stuck with an out-of-form Van Persie through much of the World Cup in South Africa, leaving the prolific Huntelaar on the bench for most of the tournament.
Now both strikers are heading to the European Championship after standout seasons for their clubs; Van Persie was top scorer in the English Premier League and Huntelaar topped the scoring table in the Bundesliga for Schalke.
Huntelaar is lethal in the penalty area while Van Persie can score from almost anywhere and set up teammates. Playing both in the same team would give the Netherlands a fearsome strike force, but would also likely mean abandoning the country’s trademark 4-3-3 formation.
Van Marwijk has shown in the past he is happy to play a 4-2-3-1 formation with two defensive midfielders in front of the back four and three attacking midfielders supplying a lone striker.
With Van Persie on the bench, Huntelaar showed his goal-scoring touch Tuesday night in a friendly against Bayern Munich when his low left-foot shot in the 18th minute levelled the scores at 1-1 in a match the German club won 3-2.
Huntelaar said his season with Schalke had filled him with confidence ahead of Euro 2012.
“It’s important to show you’re in form, but also to feel good about yourself,” Huntelaar said. “When everything works, you get into a sort of flow and that’s the best feeling there is.”
The striker said he also feels he has developed this season into a player who does more than just score goals.
“I try to be of value to the team by giving assists, creating space and chances for other players. I think I have developed well,” he said.
Van Marwijk has hinted he will name his final 23-man squad ahead of Saturday’s match at the Amsterdam Arena, the second of four friendlies before the team heads to Poland and the European Championship’s toughest qualifying group, that also includes Germany, Portugal and Denmark — all ranked in FIFA’s top 10.
After Bulgaria, the Netherlands takes on Slovakia in Rotterdam on Wednesday and Northern Ireland in Amsterdam on June 2 before travelling to Poland.
One positive to come out of the Bayern Munich game was the performance of 18-year-old PSV defender Jetro Willems, who could have played himself into the picture as a potential left back — the position Van Marwijk is having most trouble filling.
“I think he stood up to it extremely well,” Van Marwijk said of Willems, though doubts remain about throwing such a young and inexperienced defender into a tournament where he will face the likes of Christian Ronaldo in group play.