The Netherlands are through to next year’s European championship finals after securing the draw they needed away against Northern Ireland. It is the first time in six years that the Oranje have succeeded in qualifying for a major tournament. But Saturday’s match in Belfast proved to be a very tough hurdle to take.
As expected, the opening of the game at Windsor Park was very intense, with Northern Ireland playing their all-or-nothing defensive game and the Netherlands trying hard to create a decent chance. Without their two key goal scorers Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum, missing out due to injury and illness respectively, the men in orange failed to come up with an appropriate answer to Northern Ireland’s staunch rear-guard action.
Then, after half an hour, just as the Netherlands took control of the game with as much as 80 percent possession, Polish referee Szymon Marciniak pointed to the penalty spot. A harsh decision, because Northern Ireland midfielder George Saville hit Joel Veltman’s arm inside the box from very close range. Fortunately for the Netherlands, Steven Davis’ powerful spot-kick flew well over the crossbar. Five minutes later, Ronald Koeman intervened by substituting Marten de Roon, booked early in the game, for the more offensive Davy Pröpper.
The second substitution, targetman Luuk de Jong replacing winger Steven Berghuis, came after 65 minutes, with the score still level at 0-0. The move underlined once again that the Dutch had not only come to qualify, but also to win the game. However, like the previous encounter against the Green and White Army, Koeman’s men were unable to turn their dominance into goals.
That might be one of the few causes of concern for the Netherlands who are elated to progress to next year’s final tournament, where they may be playing at home as one of the venues will be the Johan Cruyff ArenA in Amsterdam.
First though, they will play their last qualifier at home against Estonia on Tuesday. The results of the final qualifiers will decide whether the Netherlands or Germany will finish top of Group C.