The Netherlands kicked off their do-or-die World Cup qualifier in Belarus, knowing that their rivals, Sweden, had trounced Luxembourg 8-0. This nightmare result must have come as a hammer blow, as it meant that only a monster score in Borisov could save the Oranje.
After all, the Netherlands will host Sweden on Tuesday and they would also need to beat Belarus by at least the same margin to go through to next year’s FIFA World Cup finals in Russia. In short: score eight goals and then defeat the Swedes 3-0. Quite a challenge.
Little wonder then that in the first quarter of Saturday’s match, Dick Advocaat’s men looked rather puzzled, creating only a few chances. But that changed in the 24th minute, when Arjen Robben laid off a Ryan Babel cross for Davy Pröpper to open the score from close range. Another Dutch goal five minutes later, by Vincent Janssen, was disallowed because of off-side. Despite a handful of decent opportunities, the Netherlands failed to double their lead before the half-time whistle.
Two more late goals
Another blow came ten minutes into the second period, when Maksim Volodko scored the equaliser with a low drive, dashing Dutch World Cup hopes. Two substitutions – Bas Dost for Tonny Vilhena and Memphis Depay for Vincent Janssen – failed to turn the tide. The Dutch hunt for goals seemed to ground to a halt. Until the 83rd minute, when Bas Dost was held in the box, and referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. Arjen Robben converted the penalty with a cool finish. Another good goal came in extra time from a free-kick taken by Memphis Depay.
The goals and the victory, however, meant little for the Dutch, who need to score at least half a dozen goals against the Swedes on Tuesday due to their inferior goal difference.
After last year’s European Championships, the odds are that the Netherlands will miss out on qualifying for a key tournament for the second successive time. The last time the Oranje failed to qualify for a World Cup was in 2002.
Netherlands starting line-up:
Cillessen; Janmaat, Van Dijk, Rekik, Blind; Wijnaldum, Pröpper, Vilhena; Robben, Janssen, Babel