Young gun Gakpo fires Netherlands as they seal World Cup return with 2-0 win over Senegal

After eight-year absence, it takes Dutch 85 minutes to get campaign up and running in Group A

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Back at football’s showpiece for the first time in eight years, the Netherlands needed 85 minutes to announce their arrival.

The Dutch seemed to be drifting to a goalless draw against Senegal in their Group A opener at Al Thumama Stadium on Monday night. Then out of nowhere, Cody Gakpo’s brilliant bit of innovation set up the win; Davy Klaassen’s 99th-minute doubler sealed it.

There were only five minutes remaining when Gakpo forward met Frenkie de Jong’s delicious curling cross, and used the back of his head to flick the ball into the Senegal net.

Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy would not want to watch it back; in a serious error of judgment, he had strayed too far from his line. Gakpo beat him to it. Then Klassen followed up Memphis Depay’s parried shot late, late on and the Netherlands beat Senegal.

The hammer blow was late but it saw off the African champions, marking the Europeans’ first World Cup victory since defeating Brazil in the third-place play-off in 2014. That was more than 3,000 days ago.

Until then, Louis van Gaal’s side had lacked spark. Early on, Gakpo elected to pass when he really should have shot, then De Jong dallied when staring down Mendy.

Clearly the Dutch were missing Depay. The Barcelona forward, forced on to the bench because of a niggling hamstring injury, was directly involved in more goals than any other player in European qualification, scoring 12 and assisting six in 10 matches. The Netherlands notched 33 times en route to Qatar. Depay, though, was introduced midway through the second half.

For Senegal, Ismaila Sarr seemed imbued with the belief he needed to carry his team’s main threat in the absence of the injured Sadio Mane. Instead, the Watford winger was giving Virgil van Dijk a horrid time, at one point leaving the Liverpool defender for dead with a beautiful feint.

Senegal were by then enjoying themselves, most probably taking additional impetus from their spirited fans. One section, stationed right behind Sarr in the first half, banged their drums throughout. Reverberating around the tournament’s only completely circular venue, it caused quite the din.

Just after half-time, Van Dijk nearly silenced them. He connected with a corner but sent his header way over. Unbelievably, given his pedigree, Monday constituted the defender’s debut at a major international tournament.

Behind him, he and teammates eventually had goalkeeper Andries Noppert to thank for the three points. Having not had much to do on his international debut, he made three telling saves: first from Boulaye Dia, then from Idrissa Gueye’s rasping shot and, finally, using all of his 6ft 8in frame and then some to parry Pape Gueye’s fizzing effort. Thankfully for Van Gaal and Co, Noppert measures up as the World Cup’s tallest player.

In the end, the Netherlands had the measure of Senegal. Gakpo stole in and substitute Klaassen sealed it. Ultimately, belatedly, their World Cup return began with a bang.

Updated: November 22, 2022, 5:25 AM
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