WIf the design of Doha’s skyscrapers is to say anything about the attractiveness of the preliminary round matches, then the duel between the Netherlands and Senegal must have been one of the highlights of the group stage.
Messi, Kane, Neuer and Bale can all be seen there, and next to Dutchman Virgil van Dijk, Senegal’s Sadio Mané looks down from one of the glass towers in central Doha.
Perhaps it was due to the absence of the superstar from FC Bayern that the crowd didn’t get to see a great spectacle during the Dutch team’s 2-0 win between the two nations. In return, the two teams offered a balanced World Cup game in which two very different football cultures met. Just as it should be at this tournament, which is now slowly picking up speed. The match was decided by two very late goals from Cody Gakpo (88′) and Davy Klaassen (90’+9′).
“I think we can play much better. But of course the win gives us a good feeling,” said goalscorer Gakpo: “It’s nice to score again.” His coach Louis van Gaal commented: “We didn’t have so many problems when the opponent had the ball. I wasn’t happy with our ball possession periods. It didn’t get any better after the break either, so the changes after the break were the key.”
In the first half in particular, the Dutch played the kind of football that the local traditionalists like: bold, fast and on the wings, but – in keeping with tradition – not particularly cold-blooded when it comes to scoring.
Above all, on the right side, via Denzel Dumfries, Steven Berghuis and Cody Gakpo, the ensemble of old master Louis van Gaal was always dangerous. And the Senegalese were physically present, well organized and when they could, they carried their attacks forward themselves.
But the Dutch were more active at first. Apart from van Dijk from Liverpool FC and de Jong (Barcelona), this time they didn’t appear as a selection of superstars from the biggest clubs in the world, but with a young, interesting team.
Just four minutes into the game, Steven Bergwijn narrowly tackled a ball into the six-yard box, Daley Blind had a good header opportunity (16′) and de Jong was too indecisive when he was passed freely in the penalty area, but found the right moment to score missed (19).
The Dutch goal, in which Andries Noppert made his international debut, was in far less danger before the break. Surprisingly for many observers, the bonds coach had made the 28-year-old keeper of SC Heerenveen number one.
It was only in the 58th minute that he had to fend off a powerful shot from Boulaye Dia on the short corner of his goal (65′), and he also thwarted an 18-metre attempt by Idrissa Gueye (73′) with a strong action. In the second half, the Senegalese were the slightly better team, so there was something tragic about the late goals.
But the West Africans can take comfort in the knowledge that the team can function without Mané. The shock after the national hero’s knee injury lies like a dark shadow over the team and remains an ongoing topic. “We had built the team around the best player, but he’s missing now,” said national coach Aliou Cissé, who stated after the final whistle: “I’m happy with how my players performed. Of course it’s a problem that Sadio is missing.” A few hours before kick-off, the coach was happy about Ismail Jakobs’ permission to play.
Until recently it was unclear whether the winger, who grew up in Germany and played for 1. FC Köln for a long time, would be allowed to play for Senegal at the World Cup, initially the chances were poor.
Jakobs, who is now under contract with AS Monaco, was only given the right to play in the tournament at the last moment and came on for Abdou Diallo after the hour, while the injured Memphis Depay came on for Oranje, the attacker is due to close in the course of the tournament become a key player for the Dutch.
He didn’t achieve anything decisive that evening, but he was still able to celebrate a win. And after a decent game, the Senegalese still have hope of progressing to the round of 16 in the games against Qatar and Ecuador.