DOHA, Qatar -- The Netherlands set up a potential Group A decider against Ecuador on Friday by opening their World Cup campaign with a 2-0 win against Senegal at Al Thumama stadium.
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Goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen in the final five minutes ensured a comfortable winning margin against the African champions, who must now beat host nation Qatar in their next game to maintain hopes of quaking for the second round.
JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Post-match quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures
1. Gakpo snatches late win against Senegal
Cody Gakpo lived up to his billing as one of the sought-after young forwards in Europe by teeing up a 2-0 win for the Netherlands in their Group A opener against Senegal. PSV Eindhoven forward Gakpo came close to a move to Manchester United during the summer and remains on their radar ahead of the January transfer window. And in his first game on the World Cup stage, the 23-year-old ensured that Louis van Gaal's team made a winning start and gave themselves the edge in the race to qualify for the second round as group winners.
- Hamilton: PSV star Gakpo ready to shine for Netherlands at World Cup
With the game seemingly drifting towards a 0-0 draw, Gakpo arrived late in the Senegal penalty area to head Frenkie de Jong's cross past a hesitant Edouard Mendy in the African champions' goal. Gakpo had been quiet during the game having been deployed in a deeper role by Van Gaal and the Dutch struggled to make an impact against a Senegal team without their injured talisman Sadio Mane. But with the group winners due to face the runners-up in Group B -- likely Wales or the USA -- winning the group means avoiding a potential clash against England, so the three points could be crucial for the Dutch, who made it 2-0 in the final seconds of stoppage time when Davy Klaassen capitalised on another Mendy error.
As for Senegal, despite creating some second-half chances, they failed to suggest they could become the first African team to go beyond the quarterfinals in Qatar. Their clash with Ecuador next Tuesday is set to be the game which decides their fate.
2. No Sadio Mane, no party for Senegal -- And the Dutch will go home soon too
We already knew that Sadio Mane would be a huge loss for Senegal, but the injury that has forced their all-time record goalscorer out of Qatar 2022 has left Aliou Cisse's team toothless in attack. Senegal simply carry no threat going forward without the Bayern Munich forward, with Watford's Ismaila Sarr and Salernitana's Boulaye Dia nowhere near the level of their star team-mate. They are a team full of talent and winning pedigree, having won this year's Africa Cup of Nations, but without a reliable forward, Senegal will not trouble the better teams in the tournament.
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And the same applies to the Netherlands, who would be a contender to go deep into the competition if they had just one striker comparable to their greats of recent times, such as Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Marco van Basten. Louis van Gaal's team have world-class players further back in Virgil van Dijk and Frenkie de Jong, but their attacking players are a level below what the Dutch really need to succeed in Qatar. Memphis Depay, who started as substitute, was joint top scorer alongside Harry Kane in European section of the World Cup qualifiers, but the Barcelona forward is not going to trouble the top teams and neither will the likes of Luuk de Jong and Wout Weghorst.
Cody Gakpo might, but the PSV Eindhoven can't carry Dutch hopes on his own, even though he won this game with his late headed goal. In all likelihood, the runners-up in this group will face England in the second round and neither Senegal or the Netherlands are strong enough to beat Gareth Southgate's team.
3. Where are the missing fans?
In the days leading up to the start of the World Cup, the late scramble to buy tickets for games was so intense that minimal availability only remained for just six group games. According to FIFA, almost every ticket had been sold and we were set for full stadiums for every game. But Al Thumama Stadium was nowhere near full for a clash between the African champions and one of Europe's best-supported teams.
The official attendance was announced as 41,721 -- not bad for a stadium listed in the official World Cup guide as having a 40,000-capacity. So where were all fans and why so many empty seats? During the opening game of the tournament between Qatar and Ecuador, the mass exodus of supporters early in the second-half was one of the most surprising outcomes and it raised questions as to which kind of fan is buying tickets and turning up.
They may be locals who have been intrigued by the tournament, but don't have a real passion for the game, hence their early departure from the Qatar game, or they may have just bought tickets and decided not to attend. Some ticket packages required fans to buy a batch of tickets for games they may not even have wanted to attend, but had to do so to get the one for the game that mattered most. But whatever the reason, it's bad for the World Cup to have such appealing games being played in front of banks of empty seats. Maybe that was why the incessant noise of the Senegal fans' band was so loud -- the echo around the half-empty stadium made it incredibly noisy.
Player ratings (1 = worst, 10 = best)
Senegal: Mendy 5; Sabaly 6, Koulibaly 7, Cisse 6, Diallo 6; Kouyate 6, Mendy 6; Diatta 6, I Gueye 6, Sarr 6; Dia 6.
Subs: Jakobs 6, Dieng 6, P Gueye 6, Jackson 6.
Netherlands: Noppert 8; De Ligt 6, Van Dijk 6, Ake 7; Dumfries 6, De Jong 7 Berghuis 6, Blind 6; Gakpo 7; Janssen 6, Bergwijn 6.
Subs: Depay 6, Koopmeiners 6, Klaassen 7, De Roon 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Andries Noppert
The Dutch goalkeeper was making his international debut, but the Heerenveen number one showed no signs of nerves during an outstanding performance which was as crucial to the win as Cody Gakpo's goal. A near post save from Boulaye Dia in the second-half was particularly important.
WORST: Edouard Mendy
World Cups are about delivering in the big moments and Senegal keeper Mendy's failure to properly judge Frenkie de Jong's cross for Gakpo's goal cost his team a point. The Chelsea keeper then spilled a late Memphis Depay shot to gift Davy Klaassen a second goal in stoppage time.
Highlights and notable moments
Senegal fans always come with the vibes.
It's a Senegal party at the Al Thumama Stadium 🤩🕺#SEN pic.twitter.com/YEftEr0hvN— ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) November 21, 2022
A second goal in injury time sealed Netherlands' win, and Louis van Gaal's side are off to a running start.
Starting our #WorldCup with a 𝗪𝗜𝗡! 🦁🇳🇱#SENNED pic.twitter.com/XFv3e9YFEa— OnsOranje (@OnsOranje) November 21, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
Netherlands head coach Louis van Gaal: "Frenkie de Jong? It was not his best match, but he gave the assist for the winning goal and that is Frenkie de Jong. It was a very tough match for us.
"We didn't have that many difficulties when the opponent was in possession, but I was not happy with ball possession on our side, we were inaccurate and ran with the ball too much."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- Netherlands: extends winning streak in the FIFA World Cup Group Stage to 7 games; it is unbeaten in its last 14 WC GS games (last loss: 1994 vs BEL)
- Cody Gakpo's goal is the 6th go-ahead goal in the World Cup by a Netherlands player in the 80th minute or later
Senegal: Aliou Cisse's team face Qatar next on Nov. 25 and then Ecuador on Nov. 29, both must-win games if they hope to make it to the knockouts.
Netherlands: A winning start is just what the Dutch needed, and they will play Ecuador next on Nov. 25 followed by Qatar on Nov. 29.