The Netherlands have taken another hurdle in their campaign to qualify for next year’s European championship by narrowly defeating Belarus 2-1 in Minsk.
The men in orange controlled the game from the first whistle, but failed to convert their possession into goals until 13 minutes before half time when Georginio Wijnaldum headed in a cross from Quincy Promes. Not minutes later, the Liverpool midfielder scored his second with a magnificent long-range strike into the top-right corner.
Belarus came back in the second half with a powerful header by Stanislav Dragun. The goal served as a wake-up call for the Netherlands, prompting manager Ronald Koeman to bring in two substitutes. After that move, the Netherlands gave little away. The guests even created a solid chance to score their third goal but saw Donyell Malen’s close-range strike blocked by a miraculous save from Aleksandr Gutor.
We got the three points that we needed
“The second half wasn’t good enough”, Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk admitted, “But we needed three points and we managed to get them. Basically, we only have ourselves to blame, but it isn’t easy to play our game in an overcrowded midfield. And, of course, the quality of the pitch didn’t help. But we’re close to qualifying and that’s what matters most.”
Sunday’s victory comes on the heels of a hard-fought 3-1 win over Northern Ireland three days earlier. Michael O'Neill’s side proved extremely difficult to beat. His defensive tactics seemed to pay off when Northern Ireland took the lead 15 minutes before regular playing time from a header from Josh Magennis following a series of Dutch errors in the box.
Six minutes later, however, Memphis Depay levelled proceedings by tapping in a fine Donyell Malen cross from the left. Two more Netherlands goals followed in extra time, the first a bizarre effort on the goal line from pinch-hitter Luuk de Jong, the second and last another strike from Memphis, his sixth for the national team this year.
Thursday's match was played at the Feyenoord Stadium in Rotterdam, which has been like a fortress for the home side; ‘De Kuip’ has been the venue of 17 Dutch victories in a row.
The Netherlands will wrap up their campaign next month with another double-header, taking on Estonia at home after traveling to Belfast, where Thursday’s opponent will surely be seeking revenge.