France beat the Netherlands 2-1 in their second match in League A of UEFA's Nations League on Sunday night. The world champions, who were held to a goalless draw against Germany on Thursday, now take the lead in Group 1.
For the Oranje, it was their first match as part of the new league format. Having a relatively young squad, the Dutch are seen as the underdog in their group. Given the strength of the two other competitors, most pundits and bookmakers regard the Netherlands’ chances of winning their group and proceeding to the Final Four summer showpiece in 2019 as very slim indeed.
Before a noisy capacity crowd in the Stade de France in Paris and under the watchful eye of their president, Emmanuel Macron, the World Cup champs showed their prowess from the very first minute, launching a prolonged series of dangerous attacks. It was just a matter of time before the offensive led to the opener. And it came just within the 15-minute mark, when Quincy Promes defended poorly, heading the ball back into his own box, giving it straight to Blaise Matuidi. The experienced French midfielder happily accepted the surprise gift and directed the ball straight to Kylian Mbappé to score his ninth goal for les Bleus.
With France having twice as much possession as their opponents and at times showing baffling technical superiority, the pattern remained very much the same for the rest of the first half, but the home side failed to double the score.
The tables were turned in the second period, with the guests putting up more opposition and occasionally even managing to silence the 78,000 in the stands. Two quick Dutch attacks in succession set up the equaliser in the 66th minute, when Memphis Depay teed up Kenny Tete on the right. The Lyon defender quickly redirected the ball with a first-time cross to Ryan Babel who struck home from close range.
The Netherlands were given no more than ten minutes to relish their goal. French substitute Benjamin Mendy joined the attack, controlled the ball on the left and put a cross towards the penalty spot for Olivier Giroud to volley in: 2-1.
This time the men in orange failed to level proceedings, but their strong performance in the second half must have given them hope ahead of their second Nations League match, against Germany on 13 October. “We were simply unfortunate,” captain Virgil van Dijk told reporters after the match. “We didn’t quite get into our game before the second half and the first French goal was simply unfortunate. You always make mistakes in a football match, and we made one too many. We were very unlucky, because we didn’t really give much away after the break.”
France starting line-up:
Areola, Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Herandez, Kanté, Pogba, Griezmann, Matuidi, Mbappé, Giroud
Netherlands starting line-up:
Cillessen, De Ligt, Van Dijk, Blind, Pröpper, Frenkie de Jong, Babel, Tete, Wijnaldum, Promes, Depay