A late goal by captain Virgil van Dijk gave the Netherlands the draw they needed to earn a spot in the Nations League semi-finals. The hard-fought result on Monday night, against a strong Germany side, means the Netherlands finish top of Group 1 in League A, with seven points from four games.
“We’ll be back, no question about it”, read a big banner in the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen. The Netherlands should have taken it as a warning, because Germany, already relegated from League A of UEFA's Nations League, were keen to stage a comeback.
Even before the match, it was obvious that Joachim Löw’s men were looking to take revenge for the 3-0 hammering they suffered at the hands of the Dutch in Amsterdam only a month ago. And so, halfway into the first period, the guests were already 2-0 down, following two lightening counter-attacks.
The hosts scored the opener in the 9th minute, when Serge Gnabry flicked the ball on to Timo Werners, who hammered it past Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen. Eleven minutes later, Leroy Sané doubled Germany’s lead with a deflected effort from the edge of the box.
It took very long before the Netherlands gained some measure of control of the match. Ironically, the Dutch were losing ball possession when they suddenly created two big chances out of the blue in the dying minutes of the game.
Five minutes before the final whistle, a precision shot from Quincy Promes flew past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and the equaliser came just into extra time, when captain Virgil van Dijk volleyed a Tony Vilhena cross into the back of the net.
Make or break
Ironically, the Netherlands have played a pivotal role in Group 1 of League A. First, Ronald Koeman’s men condemned Germany to relegation from the group by beating France 2-0 in Rotterdam on Friday. And then, only a few days later, they got the draw they needed to pip France to the Nations League semi-finals.
“The result is great, but this wasn’t a good game at all”, match-winner Virgil van Dijk conceded minutes after the final whistle. “Nothing went smoothly, we failed to create any pressure, but fortunately, I managed to hit the ball perfectly. It was a good kick and it saved the day. We didn’t play well, but we worked very hard and we got the reward for it. We can now start preparing for some very fine fixtures.”
And so, all in all, the Netherlands are firmly on the way back, too. Few pundits would have predicted Dutch survival in this League A ‘group of death’, but their admirable record of two resounding victories and a draw against two of Europe's top teams certainly bodes well for the future.
The Oranje will now join England, Portugal and Switzerland at next summer’s finals, which will be held in Portugal in June. The draw for those matches takes place in Dublin on 3 December.
Germany: Neuer, Kehrer, Hummels, Kroos, Werner, N. Schulz, Süle, Rüdiger, Kimmich, Sané, Gnabry
Netherlands: Cillessen, Tete, De Ligt, Van Dijk, Blind, De Roon, De Jong, Wijnaldum, Promes, Memphis, Babel