After missing the 2018 World Cup, Netherlands got its Qatar campaign off to the perfect start by outlasting Senegal in a 2–0 victory. Despite losing Sadio Mané for the entire tournament due to injury, Senegal appeared to have the edge in much of the match, holding the Dutch to without a shot on goal for 80-plus minutes. But the Oranje were clinical, scoring on its first shot on target in the 84th minute thanks to a header from reigning Dutch Footballer of the Year Cody Gakpo before Davy Klaassen added a second in the 99th minute.
For the Dutch, the win was their 16th straight victory, and it puts them in excellent position to top the group with Ecuador and Qatar up next. But it wasn’t easy, and the Netherlands took a bend-but-don’t-break approach against Senegal’s attack.
Senegal nearly got off to a dream start in the first minute, taking advantage of a Matthijs de Ligt defensive mishap to have a clear chance at goal, but Boulaye Dia’s shot was blocked just in the knick of time.
The two sides traded attacking runs, but Senegal winger Ismaïla Sarr proved to be the most dangerous player in the first 10 minutes. In the ninth minute, the Watford forward stepped up to an open chance from the edge of the penalty area and curled it just over the crossbar.
In the 17th minute, Daley Blind had a dangerous chance for the Dutch when he latched onto a looping cross from Gakpo, but Blind’s header went just wide.
Just two minutes later, the Netherlands had its best chance yet with a lightning-fast counterattack that eventually ended at the feet of Frenkie de Jong thanks to a perfectly placed pass by Steven Berghuis. But de Jong hesitated, trying to work around a couple of defenders instead of shooting, and lost the chance
Youssouf Sabaly had a chance for Senegal in the 33rd minute from distance, but Dutch keeper Andries Noppert didn’t have any trouble with Senegal’s first shot on target.
After a picture-perfect counterattack, Berghuis gave Senegal a scare in the 40th minute with a rocket of a shot from the edge of the area. The chance ended up just over the bar but it appeared to deflect off a Senegal defender, although a corner wasn’t awarded
After halftime, Virgil van Dijk nearly gave the Oranje the lead in the 53rd minute. The Liverpool defender rose to meet a corner from Gakpo and sent it just over the crossbar.
Dia put together a solid chance for Senegal in the 65th minute, sending a sharp, one-time effort towards goal that forced Noppert into action with a quick save.
Kouyate, one’s of Senegal’s most experienced players, needed to be stretchered off in the 72nd minute with an apparent hamstring injury, which only added to the team’s injury woes.
The Dutch took the lead with their first shot on target, which came in the 84th minute courtesy of Gakpo. After de Jong sent a long cross into the box, Gakpo raced to meet it, rising above his defender to head in the chance for the 1–0 lead.
Then, in the last minute of extra time, Klaassen doubled the Netherlands’ lead after he latched onto a rebound following a save on Depay’s shot on goal.
Full World Cup squads:
GOALKEEPERS: Seny Dieng (Queens Park Rangers), Alfred Gomis (Rennes), Édouard Mendy (Chelsea)
DEFENDERS: Fodé Ballo-Touré (AC Milan), Pape Abou Cissé (Olympiacos), Abdou Diallo (Leipzig), Ismail Jakobs (Monaco), Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea), Formose Mendy (Amiens), Moussa N’Diaye (Anderlecht), Youssouf Sabaly (Real Betis)
MIDFIELDERS: Pathé Ciss (Rayo Vallecano), Krepin Diatta (Monaco), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Pape Gueye (Marseille), Cheikhou Kouyaté (Nottingham Forest), Mamadou Loum (Reading), Nampalys Mendy (Leicester), Moustapha Name (Pafos), Pape Matar Sarr (Tottenham)
FORWARDS: Boulaye Dia (Salernitana), Famara Diedhiou (Alanyaspor), Bamba Dieng (Marseille), Nicolas Jackson (Villarreal), Iliman Ndiaye (Sheffield United), Ismaïla Sarr (Watford)
COACH: Aliou Cissé
GOALKEEPERS: Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord), Andries Noppert (Heerenveen), Remko Pasveer (Ajax)
DEFENDERS: Nathan Aké (Manchester City), Daley Blind (Ajax) Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Denzel Dumfries (Inter Milan), Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen), Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich), Tyrell Malacia (Manchester United), Jurriën Timber (Ajax), Stefan de Vrij (Inter Milan)
MIDFIELDERS: Steven Berghuis (Ajax), Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Xavi Simons (PSV Eindhoven), Kenneth Taylor (Ajax)
FORWARDS: Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Memphis Depay (Barcelona), Cody Gakpo (PSV), Vincent Janssen (Antwerp), Luuk de Jong (PSV), Noa Lang (Club Brugge), Wout Weghorst (Beşiktaş)
COACH: Louis van Gaal
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.