The Netherlands were not convincing, but two late goals gave them a winning start against Senegal in World Cup Group A.
Late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen gave the Netherlands a 2-0 win over Senegal in their World Cup return at the Al Thumama Stadium on Monday.
Frenkie de Jong had an even better chance just minutes later when a fluid Dutch counter-attack left him one-on-one with Mendy, but he couldn’t even shoot.
Despite the Dutch dominance in the first half, Senegal were still a serious threat through their individual flair and Ismaila Sarr forced Virgil van Dijk into a block after some clever footwork.
The opening 45 minutes saw the Netherlands control and create more chances, but Senegal continued to threaten in flashes and more was expected after the break.
Van Dijk headed over the bar early in the second half and Boulaye Dia tested Andreis Noppert in the Dutch goal on the hour mark, but the second half descended into a scrappy affair played at a pedestrian pace.
In fact, it looked for all the world that the match would just dissolve into a dull and bitter goalless draw, but Eredivisie top scorer Gakpo had other ideas. De Jong swung in a sumptuous center and Gakpo got there in front of a flailing Mendy to head home the opener.
From there it was just a case of the Netherlands seeing it. It wasn’t too difficult, although there was a nervous moment when Bamba Dieng found himself with a free header six yards out. However, he got under the ball and headed well over the crossbar.
All that was left was for Dutch substitute Klaassen to accept a second-half gift from Mendy, who parried a shot that looked headed straight for him in injury time.
While it was a winning start for the Netherlands, it certainly wasn’t very inspiring.
1. Senegal (4-3-3)
GK: Edouard Mendy – 4/10 – Much closer to the solid end of the scale than the spectacular – until he got all flappy for the Netherlands’ winner. He did even worse on the second.
RB: Youssouf Sabaly – 6/10 – Did okay but didn’t stamp any authority on the game.
CB: Kalidou Koulibaly – 6/10 – Unremarkable, but in a good ‘didn’t do anything obviously silly, Koulibaly’ kind of a way.
CB: Pape Abou Cisse 6/10 – Caught out positionally once or twice, but nothing major.
LB: Abdou Diallo – 6/10 – Netherlands livewire Cody Gakpo did most of his work down Diallo’s side, but he stuck to his task.
CM: Idrissa Gueye – 6/10 – Wasteful on a couple of very promising set pieces but did his defensive work well.
CM: Nampalys Mendy – 6/10 – More energetic than effective.
CM: Cheikhou Kouyate – 6/10 – Game passed him down to a large extent.
RF: Krepin Diatta – 5/10 – The least inspiring of a forward line badly missing Sadio Mane.
CF: Boulaye Dia – 6/10 – Threatened on occasion, but generally dominated by Van Dijk.
LF: Ismaila Sarr – 7/10 – Always looked like the main threat for Senegal. The only threat, in fact.
SUB: Ismael Jakobs (62′ for Diallo) – 5/10 – Struggled to make any kind of an impact
SUB: Bamba Dieng (69′ for Dia) – 5/10 – Didn’t make things better, but didn’t make things any worse either.
SUB: Pape Guaye (74′ for Kouyate) – N/A
SUB: Nicolas Jackson – (74′ for Diatta) – N/A
Manager: Aliou Cisse – 6/10 – Set up his side well and was unlucky to not get a good point from it.
2. Netherlands 3-4-1-2
GK: Andries Noppert – 7/10 – Comfortable enough on the rare occasions when he was tested on his debut.
CB: Matthijs De Ligt – 5/10 – Struggled at times against Sarr in the first half.
CB: Virgil Van Dijk – 6/10 – Solid in defence and a set-piece threat at the other end, although perhaps should have scored.
CB: Nathan Ake – 5/10 – Nothing special, nothing scary.
RM: Denzel Dumfries – 5/10 – A willing runner but, in keeping with the rest of the match, very little quality.
CM: Steven Berghuis – 5/10 – Offered some nice balance in the centre of midfield, but precious little incision.
CM: Frenkie de Jong – 7/10 – Wasted a glorious chance in the first half which could have really opened the the game up, but made up for it with a beautiful assist for Gapko’s winner.
LM: Daley Blind – 6/10 – Another guilty of missing an early chance before they dried up almost entirely.
AM: Cody Gakpo – 8/10 – A bright spark for the Netherlands in a poor spectacle. No surprise he found the breakthrough.
CF: Vincent Janssen – 6/10 – Worked his socks off but didn’t really achieve anything.
CF: Steven Bergwijn – 6/10 – Flashes of quality but not enough to influence the game.
SUB: Memphis Depay (62′ for Janssen) – 6/10 – Gave the Senegalese defence something extra to think about.
SUB: Davy Klaassen (79′ for Bergwijn) – 6/10 – Given a gift of a late goal by Mendy.
SUB: Teun Koopmeiners (79′ for Berghuis) – N/A
SUB: Marten de Roon (90′ for Gakpo) – N/A
Manager – Louis van Gaal 6/10 – The Netherlands don’t always have to be good, but they should never really be this boring, despite the win.