The Netherlands have beaten Bulgaria 3-1 in a crucial qualifying match in the Amsterdam ArenA. The victory comes as a relief for the Netherlands, three days after their painful defeat in France all but ended their chances of qualifying for next year’s World Cup.
There are just two more qualifiers to go, and the Netherlands need to win them both, preferably by a wide margin, in order to join the 32 countries competing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals in Russia. Sweden's resounding 4-0 victory in Belarus, on the same night, certainly didn't improve Dutch prospects.
It was clear from the start of Sunday’s match that the Netherlands meant business. The hosts took an early lead in the 7th minute when Daley Blind set up a one-two with Vincent Janssen on the edge of the box, stormed to the goal-line to find Davy Pröpper ready to tip in his cross.
But the offensive was short-lived. The Dutch became more cautious after a Georgi Kostadinov header from six metres flew past goalkeeper Jasper Cilissen to hit the far post. As a result, the match quickly slowed down to a crawl.
The second half showed the same pattern: the men in orange on the attack, claiming more possession, but finding the two-line Bulgarian defence too tough to break. The Dutch were the better side, but Bulgaria remained dangerous, particularly from set pieces and the occasional counter attack.
Still, the Dutch managed to double their lead in the 67th minute, when Arjen Robben tapped in another Blind cross from close range. Much to the dismay of the orange-clad crowd, Bulgaria responded one minute later with a lucky goal from a long-distance Popov free-kick which took a curve just inside the far post.
Everyone of us was aware of the need for a high score, and we really tried.
With eleven minutes to go, however, Pröpper netted his second with a precision header after another cross from the left, this time from Quincy Promes, sealing a well-deserved 3-1 victory for the Netherlands.
Captain Arjen Robben, who applauded the home crowd after the final whistle, expressed some degree of criticism: "At least, we won. We wanted to win, preferably by a wide margin, and we more or less succeeded. Admittedly, we could have done better. Everyone of us was aware of the need for a high score, and we really tried, but of course we are happy with this result."
Netherlands: Cillessen, Tete, De Vrij, Hoedt, Blind, Wijnaldum, Pröpper, Vilhena, Robben, Janssen, Promes.
Bulgaria: Iliev, Popov, Terziev, Bozhikov, Zanev, Kostadinov, Manolev, Chochev, Tsvetkov, Zehirov, Popov