The Netherlands, who missed the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, have returned to the big stage with a bang. A three-time runners-up in World Cup history, the Dutch yesterday beat Senegal 2-0 with a confidence-boosting performance at Al Thumama Stadium.
Cody Gakpo yesterday produced a stunning header late in the second half before substitute Davy Klaassen added one more in injury time to lift Netherlands to win in their opening match at Qatar 2022.
Gakpo, the 23-year-old PSV Eindhoven forward, sent the ball into the net in the 84th minute from close range following a slick cross from Frenkie de Jong to score the first goal in the Group A clash. In added time, Klaassen picked up a rebound inside the Senegal box to score his team’s second goal with an easy shot into the net.
With three points in the bag, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal must have been a relieved man after watching his side struggle against the African giants - who are missing Sadio Mane in Qatar - for most of the match.
Dutch skipper Virgil van Dijk said the 2010 runners-up needed to perform better. “We won but we also know that we can and must do better,” Van Dijk, who got his 50th cap, said yesterday.
“Going forward we sometimes tried to force things, and we too often left ourselves exposed to Senegal’s counter-attacks,” he told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “That is an area in which we will need to improve because it is an art that our next opponents, Ecuador, are very good at. But I am optimistic because I feel we are going to get better.”
The Dutch have now extended their unbeaten streak to 16 matches. Senegal, who were on a four-match unbeaten streak in the warm-ups prior to the World Cup, could not score against debutant goalkeeper Andries Noppert, the tallest player at the World Cup in Qatar at 6’8”.
With Noppert marshaling his team from the goalline, the match got off to a steady start though both teams adopted measured moves early on. Watford star Ismaila Sarr charged into the box Dutch but his shot was blocked in the second minute of the match. Soon afterwards, the Dutch nearly almost scored but Steven Berghuis failed to deflect on a low Gakpo cross from the right of box.
Continuing with early game surge, striker Sarr in the 9th minute swivelled and produced a left-footed drive but the shot sailed above the Dutch crossbar. In the 16th minute, Daley Blind found momentum to jump above Senegal’s Youssef Sabaly on a Gakpo cross but the headed deflection bounced away from the goalpost.
A minute later, Gapko provided a loopy cross but Vincent Janssen’s header missed the goalpost right to Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. In probably the best chance to score, midfielder Frankie de Jong took long to shoot as the Senegalese defence quickly thwarted the dangerous move from inside their own box in the 21st minute.
A corner kick close to the half-hour mark by Gapko was tad off the mark but Van Dijk still laboured for a header that sailed away from the goalmouth after the Dutch skipper was crowded by Senegalese defenders.
Midfielder Berghuis went solo with a left-footed drive but the shot sailed above the Senegalese crossbar in the 39th minute. Four minutes from the the break, Sarr found pace on his shot from the edge of the box but Nathan Ake stood solid to kill the move.
With no substitutions made by either side in the first half, defender Denzel Dumfries charged into the Senegal box with the ball but Abdou Diallo was alert to mark him in his own box to force a corner. In the 52nd minute Van Dijk jumped over Idrissa Gana Gueye inside the box but the Dutch skipper’s headed deflection narrowly missed the Senegal crossbar from close range.
In another wasted opportunity to score, Senegal’s Krepin Diatta failed to deflect home on a cross from close range in the 57th minute. Soon after the hour-mark, Senegal’s Boulaye Dia - inside the Dutch box - slipped a low shot past Van Dijk but keeper Noppert dived to his left to flick the shot away.
Noppert once again stood like a wall when in the 71st minute as he blocked a fierce shot by midfielder Gueye who was standing unguarded on the edge of the Dutch box. Sarr, despite losing his balance in the 81st minute, managed another close range header but his deflection went above the crossbar.
In a sudden twist to the match, Netherlands scored. Gakpo beat keeper Mendy with a high jump to head home from close range for his side’s first goal on a perfect De Jong cross from outside the box. Gakpo tad blindsided but he still managed to score in the 84th minute.
A minute later, Dutch keeper Norries ensured his team’s lead was intact when he dived to his left on a powerful long-range shot from substitute Gueye.
In injury time that saw the referee add eight minutes, Deepay fired a shot that was initially blocked by keeper Mendy but the ball bounced off his hands and landed at the feet of Klaassen who had no trouble in scoring the second goal for Netherlands in the dying moments of the game. “It was a boyhood dream for me to play at a World Cup but I never thought it would be possible,” Noppertsaid. “It was really special when the goalkeeping coach Frans Hoek told me that I was going to play. The closer the game got, the more tense I became, but it was a healthy tension. ”
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