Wf the design of the high-rise buildings in Doha should actually say something about the attractiveness of the preliminary round games, then the duel between the Dutch and the Senegal were among the highlights of the group stage.
Messi, Kane, Neuer and Bale can be seen there, and right next to the Dutchman Virgil van Dijk Sadio Mané from Senegal looks down from one of the glass towers in the center of Doha.
Maybe it was the superstar’s absence from the FC Bayern, that the audience didn’t get to see a big spectacle when the Dutch won 2-0 between the two nations. In return, the two teams offered a balanced World Cup game in which two very different football cultures met. Just as it should be at this tournament, which is now slowly picking up speed. The match was decided by two very late goals from Cody Gakpo (88′) and Davy Klaassen (90’+9′).
“I think we can play much better. But of course the win gives us a good feeling,” said goalscorer Gakpo: “It’s nice to score again.” His coach Louis van Gaal commented: “We didn’t have so many problems when the opponent had the ball. I wasn’t happy with our ball possession periods. It didn’t get any better after the break either, so the changes after the break were the key.”
In the first half in particular, the Dutch played the kind of football that the local traditionalists like: bold, fast and on the wings, but – in keeping with tradition – not particularly cold-blooded when it comes to scoring.
Above all on the right side, via Denzel Dumfries, Steven Berghuis and Cody Gakpo, the ensemble was old masters Louis van Gaal always dangerous. And the Senegalese were physically present, well organized and when they could, they carried their attacks forward themselves.
But the Dutch were more active at first. Apart from van Dijk from Liverpool FC and de Jong (Barcelona), this time they didn’t appear as a selection of superstars from the biggest clubs in the world, but with a young, interesting team.
Just four minutes into the game, Steven Bergwijn narrowly tackled a ball into the six-yard box, Daley Blind had a good header opportunity (16′) and de Jong was too indecisive when he was passed freely in the penalty area, but found the right moment to score missed (19).
The Dutch goal, in which Andries Noppert made his international debut, was in far less danger before the break. Surprisingly for many observers, the bonds coach had made the 28-year-old keeper of SC Heerenveen number one.
It was only in the 58th minute that he had to fend off a powerful shot from Boulaye Dia on the short corner of his goal (65′), and he also thwarted an 18-metre attempt by Idrissa Gueye (73′) with a strong action. In the second half, the Senegalese were the slightly better team, so there was something tragic about the late goals.
But the West Africans can take solace in knowing that the team can do without Mane is working. The shock after the national hero’s knee injury lies like a dark shadow over the team and remains an ongoing topic. “We had built the team around the best player, but he’s missing now,” said national coach Aliou Cissé, who stated after the final whistle: “I’m happy with how my players performed. Of course it’s a problem that Sadio is missing.” A few hours before kick-off, the coach was happy about Ismail Jakobs’ permission to play.
Until recently it was unclear whether the winger, who grew up in Germany and played for 1. FC Köln for a long time, would be allowed to play for Senegal at the World Cup, initially the chances were poor.
Jakobs, who is now under contract with AS Monaco, was only given the right to play in the tournament at the last moment and came on for Abdou Diallo after the hour, while the injured Memphis Depay came on for Oranje, the attacker is due to close in the course of the tournament become a key player for the Dutch.
He didn’t achieve anything decisive that evening, but he was still able to celebrate a win. And after a decent game, the Senegalese still have hope of progressing to the round of 16 in the games against Qatar and Ecuador.