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Cody Gakpo and Klaassen stun Senegal with thrilling Netherlands late show

It began as a tale of two centre‑forwards and ended as a game of two goalkeepers. As the Netherlands began their World Cup campaign with a 2-0 win against Senegal, it had seemed the decisive factor would be the absence from the starting lineups of Sadio Mané, and Memphis Depay. But in the end it turned out to be about the two goalkeepers, the debutant Andries Noppert of the Netherlands, who had a fine game, and Édouard Mendy of Senegal, who did not.

For Senegal, it had all seemed to be going well. With their fans drumming away behind Aliou Cissé’s bench, this sounded like a Cup of Nations game and, for a long time, it looked like a Cup of Nations game as well. There was very little width, a lot of bodies banging into each other in a congested centre, and only ever the vaguest sense that a goal might come.

When one did eventually arrive, with six minutes remaining, it was for the Netherlands and Mendy was badly at fault. Nor did he impress with the decisive second that sealed the game deep into injury time.

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With their three powerful central midfielders, Senegal had, for the most part, negated the Dutch but when Frenkie de Jong was given time to measure his cross from the left, Mendy was slow to react, allowing Cody Gakpo to get to the ball first and direct it into the net.

Then, Depay, who had come off the bench just after the hour, was released on the break as Senegal chased the game, Mendy tamely pushed his low shot into the path of Davy Klaassen.

Given Senegal had the better of what few clear chances there had been before that, the contrast was obvious. The Dutch have so struggled with goalkeepers of late that Remko Pasveer, a 39-year-old who had never previously been capped, played in the last two games before the World Cup, but Noppert looked an inspired selection – an entirely characteristic Louis van Gaal gamble. As Noppert acknowledged, nobody else would have picked him.

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His is a remarkable story. Noppert is 28 but has only ever played 45 league games. A late developer, he was briefly without a club after leaving Dordrecht in 2020 at which his family begged him to give up football.

It’s as well for the Netherlands that he ignored them. Noppert made a tidy low save early in the second half to keep out an effort on the turn from Boulaye Dia, pulled off a far more spectacular block to deny Idrissa Gueye from the edge of the box with quarter of an hour remaining, and then made a sprawling save low to his right to keep out a long‑ranger from Pape Gueye just after the Dutch had taken the lead.

“He has an open personality,” said van Gaal, who seemed amused that Noppert had said in his post-match interview he is similar to his manager.

Cody Gakpo (centre) receives a loving embrace after scoring the Netherlands’ winner over Senegal
Image credit: The Guardian

“He is quite direct and outspoken, that is probably what he meant, but that does not mean he can be a coach. His quality is that he can stop balls and he did that three times today, perfectly.”

Van Gaal himself was in typically direct and outspoken mood. “Frenkie de Jong? It was not his best match,” he said, “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.”

To an extent, that played into Senegal’s hands. “We deserved at least a point from this match,” said their coach Cissé. “We had a definite plan from the outset. We had a plan to press them high up the pitch but eventually we had to drop back a little bit. We had chances but we didn’t score.”

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He felt his side lost intensity after Cheikhou Kouyaté was forced off with a twisted ankle and he must wait also on the fitness of the left‑back Abdou Diallo, who limped off with a muscle strain.

Senegal’s biggest injury issue, though, without question, is the absence of Mané. Cissé acknowledged it was “a problem” but insisted that “the players who did play did what was expected of them”, particularly in “shutting down their attacks on the wings”. Van Gaal, at least, had the option of introducing Depay, whom he praised for bringing added “precision”.

Next up for Senegal are Qatar, who surely cannot be as bad again as they were in losing to Ecuador on Sunday. “If you lose the first match,” Cissé said, “then the second match becomes like a final.”

Qualification remains within their reach, but it is the Dutch who control the group.

Post credit: The Guardian


Video credit: VRed Baller

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