Late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen earned the Netherlands a 2-0 win against African champions Senegal to go top of Group A.
A sluggish game with few chances looked to be ending goalless until Gakpo took advantage of a misjudgment by Senegal’s goalkeeper Édouard Mendy to head in Frenkie de Jong’s teasing cross.
Klaassen tapped in a rebound after Mendy failed to deal with a shot by Memphis Depay, on as a second-half substitute, to seal the win in the last minute of extra time.
De Jong was one of the few players to live up to expectations as the Dutch struggled to control the midfield, while at the back Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt were kept busy by Senegal’s rapid counter-attacks. But in the absence of the injured Sadio Mané, the African champions lacked a focal point for their attacks.
‘I didn’t have the feeling we would lose,’ head coach Louis van Gaal told NOS. ‘If you look at Senegal, they hardly had a chance in the first half and maybe two in the second.’
Van Gaal said he had brought on Memphis Depay for the last 30 minutes to ‘protect him from himself’ as the Barcelona forward recovers from a hamstring injury.
He singled out Gakpo as the player who gave the Dutch the edge. ‘You could see in the first half that he had the speed to outrun the defenders. He’s agile and capable and could have scored in the first minute.’
Heerenveen’s goalkeeper Andries Noppert distinguished himself with two important saves while the score was 0-0 as he kept a clean sheet on his debut for the national team.
Noppert said he had been told on Sunday that he would be starting after impressing in Thursday’s training match. ‘They said, go out and play the way you play for your club, but it’s a different outfit.’
Captain Virgil van Dijk said Oranje needed to learn lessons from the difficulties they experienced breaking down Senegal. ‘They defended very deep when we had the ball and when we lost the ball in midfield, they could pressure us with the speed they have,’ he said.
The Dutch will now play Ecuador on Friday before finishing their group games on Monday against host nation Qatar. On the evidence of the matches so far they are firm favourites to go through to the last 16.
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