The Netherlands have had some of the greatest forwards in history wear that famous orange shirt. Dennis Bergkamp. Ruud van Nistelrooy. Robin van Persie to name just a few in recent history. But their World Cup opener with Senegal was off-colour until late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaasen gave them a 2-0 win, and I’m not just talking about their horrendous new shirts.
With Vincent Janssen, Steven Bergwijn and Gakpo as a front three, the Dutch lacked any sort of quality up front for an hour. Even when the returning Memphis Depay came off the bench, Louis van Gaal’s side struggled to create any major chances after the first five minutes.
Then their star man stepped up. The 23-year-old top scorer in the Eredivisie has 27 goals and assists in 19 club games this season, and made his name on the world stage with a late header. When it looked as if all hope was lost, Daley Blind whipped in a delightful cross and Gakpo, made no mistake with his header. Eduoard Mendy arguably could have done better, caught in no man’s land, but this was a brilliantly timed run from a man in form.
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The Chelsea keeper definitely could have done better with the second, which arrived in the 99th minute. He spilt Depay’s effort and Klaasen was there to pick up the pieces and add some underserved shine to the scoreline.
The Dutch carved their way through the Senegalese back line in the opening moments, but they couldn’t apply the finishing touch. Instead, it was the AFCON champions who created a few half openings as they played a high-risk, high-reward 4-3-3. After a blistering breakaway led by Steven Bergwijn, Frenkie De Jong had a golden opportunity to open the scoring but took too many touches in a bid to get his shot away. In a World Cup that has lacked the normal atmosphere so far, both sets of fans joined the party, with the Senegal fans providing a constant din of noise along the side of the pitch. However, there were again, a distinct amount of empty seats on show as this World Cup failed to take off in Qatar.
Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert will be delighted with his performance, having kept a clean sheet on his international debut. Two years ago he was unemployed and his family advised him to quit football and join the police. Now at 6ft 8in, the Heerenveen man stood tall to keep out Senegal.
It’s a story that draws some parallels with his opposite number Edouard Mendy. Now a world star and Champions League winner with Chelsea, he was also unemployed and set to quit football, before a friend recommended him to Marseille. They offered him a trial and as they say, the rest is history.
It was a game that yearned for the absent Sadio Mane. This is a stage for the world’s best players and Senegal would have perhaps been able to find a cutting edge of their own with the Liverpool man in the side. Instead, their best effort came when Idrissa Gueye was denied by Noppert from the edge of the area.
Netherlands still haven't lost their opening game at a World Cup since 1938 and they will be delighted to get off to a winning start here, after a truly awful game with little between both sides. Ultimately, it was their young superstar who proved his worth, before Klaasen tapped in late on to make the scoreline look far more handsome than it actually was. Another mistake from Mendy handed the Dutch a 2-0 win, but they’ll have to do a lot better if they want to go deep into this competition.