The Netherlands’ assistant coach Ruud van Nistelrooy said the team cannot afford to take its foot off the accelerator in the European Championship after topping Group C, and must learn from mistakes made in major tournaments in the past.
The Dutch began their campaign with a 3-2 victory over Ukraine, going on to win all three group matches to set up a last-16 clash on Sunday with Czech Republic. The Czechs qualified after finishing third in Group D with four points.
Former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker van Nistelrooy was part of the Netherlands side that was knocked out of the 2006 World Cup in the last 16 by Portugal and suffered a similar fate in Euro 2008, when the Dutch lost to Russia in the first knockout round.
Both those exits followed impressive group stage displays and van Nistelrooy warned his team against complacency.
“I talked about it with the group. That’s why it was important not to loosen the reins too much after Austria,” van Nistelrooy told reporters on Friday, referring to their 2-0 victory in their second match.
“Because then it’s difficult to get back into the flow.”
The Netherlands finished their group stage campaign with a 3-0 win over North Macedonia, but van Nistelrooy expects a different type of challenge in the knockout stage.
“It’s a different mentality, more pressure,” he said.
“In the groups you have more moments where you can make a mistake, in that sense it’s a different kind of pressure, (in the knockout stage) it’s all or nothing. Mentally that’s important.”