Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands Leave It Late Against Senegal

Louis van Gaal made it clear in the run-up to Netherlands’ World Cup opener that he had more confidence than most in his team.

He believes they have a chance to break the World Cup jinx than hangs over the Oranje, stop all the talk about their three runners-up finishes, and lift the trophy for the first time. The Dutch got off to a good start with a late win over Senegal thanks to a perfect cross from Frenkie de Jong and a fine finish from PSV gem Cody Gakpo in the 84th minute.

Davy Klaassen then scored in the last minute of extra time, which no doubt brought out a sigh of relief from the Dutch coach, who at the age of 71 wants to enjoy one of his last great moments on the bench. He handed the reins to De Jong and it worked out well in the opener against a Senegal side that is still coming to terms with the loss of Sadio Mane. They battled hard, but offered little in the attacking third.

On top of that, their goalkeeper wasn’t exactly sharp either. Edouard Mendy, as he does with Chelsea, blends the good with the bad, but unfortunately for Senegal, there was more of the latter on Monday.

Senegal weren’t going to go down without a fight against the Netherlands. They tried to take the game to their opponents in both halves, as they know their physicality is capable of intimidating lesser opponents. However, the Netherlands have names like Virgil Van Dijk, Matthijs De Ligt and Denzel Dumfries.

The team coached by Van Gaal has long relied on its structure and its leaders when it comes to unblocking matches. Frenkie de Jong was unleashed and given the reigns, something he isn’t always allowed to do with Barcelona. Every play must go through the rhythm that he dictates, whether it be in possession next to the central defenders, or in the transitions he knows how to lead. Despite a block by Van Dijk in his own area in the first minute, which ended in a corner kick, the best chances of the first half belonged to the European side.

Gakpo, who at times couldn’t find his usual space because of De Jong, found some inside the box and picked out Steven Bergwijn, who couldn’t finish with Mendy already beaten. Next up was Daley Blind, who headed Dumfries’ cross into the side-netting.

De Jong had a great chance on the break, making two cuts before attempting a shot, only to have his attempt on goal go wide. Senegal looked a little overmatched and stopped taking so many risks at that point. The Dutch were in complete control, and if they pressed, the match was theirs.

A tight game and then Gakpo’s goal.

Senegal missed their captain and star player every time they tried to find space in their opponents’ half. The loss of Mane is more than just the loss of a good striker. He was a reference point who set the tempo in terms of attacking.

As a result Senegal pressed hard when Netherlands took risks at the start, and tried to take advantage of set pieces or other isolated circumstances to get ahead. It wasn’t easy, because if there is one thing the Dutch are known for, it’s their muscle and skill in their own area, as well as in their opponent’s area.

Van Gaal called on Memphis Depay to try to break the deadlock even though he isn’t in top form. Senegal’s best chance came from a De Jong mistake in possession, which allowed Boulaye Dia to turn and fire a dangerous effort that was well parried.

Cheikhou Kouyate had to leave on a stretcher, which is another concern for Senegal, while Idrissa Gueye tested Andries Noppert with a strong effort.

The game was stuck in a rut at the point, with neither side able to hurt the opponent, and the feeling was the match was destined to finish goalless. However, a good cross from De Jong, who had disappeared in the second half, gave Gakpo the chance to head home.

A goal that was worth three points. Senegal tried until the end, but were unable to will the ball into the back of the net. Klaassen, with the last kick of the match, took advantage of a poor Mendy save on Depay’s shot.

In the end the Dutch earned three points, proving Van Gaal right, at least for the time being.

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