If ever an advert was needed to prove the success of the inaugural UEFA Nations League then look no further than Gelsenkirchen on Monday evening as Group 1 in League A comes to a close with a blockbuster match at the VELTINS-Arena.
A wounded Germany side looking to restore much needed pride and regain faith paired up with the Oranje. The Dutch need victory to claim top spot in the group and complete their own personal redemption story.
Initiate Phase Two
The task was clear for Netherlands before this international break got underway. They had to, in all likelihood, win their remaining two games to win their Nations League group. It sounds simple, but when it is the reigning World champions France and their predecessor Germany that lay in wait, it becomes a whole lot more complicated for a side that has had a habit of complicating things lately.
While a few years ago, this Dutch team would've surely folded in the face of such strong opposition, they are made of stronger stuff in 2018. The evidence was clear on Friday evening when they brushed aside France in Rotterdam to set up this decisive clash with Germany. A result so emphatic that the Dutch even make it easier for themselves, needing only a point from this final match due to their superior goal difference.
It is fair to say that the Netherlands have probably been the best side in this group. They were desperately unlucky in their opening match away in France and demolished Germany in Amsterdam before that victory on Friday. They are a side that is positively purring at the moment and on the cusp of their first major success in international football for four years.
The stage is set. Time to complete phase two.
All Time Löw
Germany are not used to this. A summer of discontent followed by relegation... yes, relegation. The Nations League is able to throw up moments such as this, that were previously inconceivable.
The World Cup was nothing short of a disaster for the German national team. Their opening day defeat to Mexico, their first defeat in their opening match since 1982, set the tone for an eventual exit at the first round. This was a fate that had not befallen the Germans on that particular stage since 1938 - back when the group stage was yet to be introduced!
The Nations League looked like it could provide the perfect tonic. Instead, they laboured to a draw in their opening home match with France and were beaten in their following two games. In between that, a 2-1 victory over Peru in a friendly came late and was far from convincing.
All that being said, Germany were comfortable 3-0 victors over Russia in friendly action on Thursday. A youthful, exuberant side, much like the one that perhaps should've been at the World Cup, were on top throughout and showed a ruthlessness and cutting edge that had been sorely missed.
It is unfortunate then that the result between the Netherlands and France relegated the Germans while they sat on the sidelines. Their poor form in the group was to blame but it was a harsh comedown after producing one of their best performances in several months.
German pride is a little bit hurt. They are still nursing themselves back to health and that is why Monday's game is anything but a dead rubber for die Mannschaft. They can't move up the table, they can't avoid relegation, but they can add more points to their total and restore some of that pride while delivering a cruel body blow to a Dutch side that did the same to them on Friday.
The Dutch suffered no fresh injury concerns in their match with France and come into the game full of confidence.
Frenkie de Jong was a standout for the Dutch in midfield alongside Georgino Wijnaldum. Denzel Dumfries in defence was rock solid while Virgil van Dijk and Matias de Ligt kept the French out at the back.
Memphis Depay also had a great game at the de Kuip and finished off his display with a cheeky Panenka penalty to seal the points.
It would not be surprising to see Ronald Koeman stick to the same eleven.
Germany are able to call on a full squad and will rotate from their match against Russia. Borussia Dortmund star Marco Reus was unavailable for that match but is likely to feature against the Dutch.
Serge Gnabry, Kai Havertz and Jonathan Tah are all relatively new to the international scene and could be given more opportunities on Monday while Niklas Sule, Leroy Sane and Tino Werner did their chances of further selection no harm.
Manuel Neuer is set to be the man between the sticks, keeping out Kevin Trapp and Bernd Leno.
What they said
The task for Netherlands may have gotten slightly easier after Friday. A point will do the trick but Ronald Koeman wants his side to go for the win: "The mentality must be to win. And if that does not work, you should try not to lose. We are going to try and play football and create chances ourselves," were the words from Koeman in his pre-match press conference.
Joachim Löw on the other hand, is less than convinced of his side's chances, claiming the Germans are underdogs: "The Netherlands won 2-0 against the world champion, 3-0 against the previous world champion. Then it makes sense for me that they start the game as favourite," were the words from the Germany manager to the press.
Head to head
Monday will mark the forty-second meeting between these two nations and it is the Germans that have the historical advantage.
They have fifteen wins to eleven and have scored 77 goals to the 67 of Holland. The two sides have also played out fifteen draws. It is a fixture that has been relatively close over the years, although the 3-0 victory for the Dutch in October was their first of any kind over their opponents since a friendly win in 2002.
It was in Hamburg in 2011 that these two sides last did battle in Germany. Kevin Strootman, Wijnaldum, Luuk de Jong and Ryan Babel are the only survivors in the squad from that night. That was a night to forget but as they meet seven years later further south, they could help create a night to remember.
Regardless of the outcome on the Emscher River on Monday, the Dutch have brought the belief back. This is a side that once again can compete at the top level and will provide plenty of optimism going into the regular qualifying phase for Euro 2020. A victory though would bring the deserved ending to a troublesome four-year tale that has saw a shocker in Sofia, a capitulation in Konya and a relapse in Reykjavik and quite possibly with much-needed gratification in Gelsenkirchen.
A new dawn awaits for the Dutch.