The circumstances were a tad less than perfect.
No fans to cheer us on. A successful coach who bailed two weeks before the games. Four defenders (three starters) missing. A mixed bag of fitness and rhythm. Veltman hadn’t played for weeks. Memphis returning from injury. Cillisen lacking rhythm. Untested pairings.
But, the boys came through. The team tactics worked. Particularly in the second half. And clearly the players were highly motivated. Working hard. Eager to find openings. Good pressure on the ball and disciplined execution (Ake, De Roon, Veltman, De Jong).
Poland came to not lose. They were compact. Defended deep. And hoped for a counter attack. Oranje dominated but couldn’t create a lot. In the first half, we had trouble breaking them down, partly because the forward pass (behind their defense) was played too late. We saw runs by Bergwijn, Memphis, Ake and Hateboer but the back four didn’t want to play the ball. First they wanted to find their rhythm.
The first shot (not on target) was by a Polish player and the first shot on target (saved by Cillesen) was by Poland as well.
Dwight started with Ake on the LB spot, playing like his disciplined and absent colleague Blind. The more experienced Veltman took the De Ligt role and Hateboer played on the right, in an interesting combi with De Roon. Particularly in the second half, Hateboer was the false right winger while De Roon played the right back holding role. Like they do at Bergamo.
Memphis seemed to have a good chance – stopped by the goalie – but in an offside position. The second chance was for Promes, who missed the target and it was late in the first half when Oranje finally had it’s first real creative opportunity, with Frenkie’s run into the box, who got served by Memphis in perfect manner. Memphis vision, his ability to chip the ball, Frenkie’s chest control and half-volley…all perfect. But the upright thought differently.
It was clear what Dwight would want to see in the second half. That forward pass must be played quicker. Find the space behind their defence. Don’t make it too easy for Poland to defend.
Van Dijk used his deep ball to good use and even Marten de Roon started to spray some long balls. Ake was able to push up higher too, while Frenkie was taking more risks as well and took on players more and more.
For me, the outstanding player was Memphis. Everything we did in an offensive way, was through him. He hunted, he pressed, he hassled and prodded… He tricked players, went for the 1-2 combination, and was continously threatening, even if his set pieces didn’t really connect and he missed a big shooting opportunity with a complete un-Memphis like mishit. But, he might not be 100% yet, he is well on his way to get there.
He did get a massive chance to score on a great Bergwijn cross but it felt like Memphis didn’t expect the ball to pass through the first defender and as a result he mis controlled the ball.
Holland was the dominating party and after an hour we broke through their defences. Promes moved back inside from the left wing and found Frenkie. He spotted Hateboer’s run and put the ball on a plate. The former Groningen man flicked the ball back across goal, where Bergwijn was ready to tap in his first Oranje goal!
Poland brought Milik and wanted to hunt for a goal but it was Oranje that came closest to a second, it feels. Wijnaldum and Van de Beek were close to a second but it wasn’t to be. Still, the new adventure started well, after 290 days of not being together and this performance definitely gave us a good foundation for the future.
Memphis was limping in front of the camera, after the game. The startled interviewer asked him about it and he laughed: “Sore muscles man, my first full match in a long time. How great to be back and play 90 minutes!”
Memphis was already quite successful for Lyon in the league 1, but he failed to score this time, even though he was involved in everything. He had six shots, created three opportunities and was involved in nine out of the 14 attempts on goal. He had 4 successful dribbles and was fouled 8 times. No one had better stats on the night.
The eight free kicks he won were actually a record. Since 2013, no other Oranje player was fouled as often in one match. “They were petulant, they stepped on my heel, they tried to provoke and the ref seemingly didn’t see it.”
He was not 100% satisfied. “We can play much better. But i have to say, joy is the overbearing emotion for me after such a long time. Some things went automatic, with some players you have that invisible click, but we can do better and must do better. Me as well of course, but I don’t want to be overly critical now. I was away for months and I am just grateful to be back.”
Interim coach Lodeweges was confronted with the fact that he is the first Oranje coach since Rijkaard to win his first match. “Oh, I didn’t even know that. That was a while back then? It was a tough match. Poland was here at full strength, except for Lewandowski of course. They play this way, and it was on us to break them down and we did. When you score earlier in the game, you might get a couple more, but I think we can happy with this, as the team did look rusty at times.”
Captain Virgil van Dijk spoke of a mature win. “It was not easy to predict how our form would be. One players had hardly had any minutes, other players have been full on in pre-season mode. But we managed a professional win. We let the ball go, also under pressure. And we kept a clean sheet. I think we can be pleased, even if we had to reward ourselves with a goal or two more.”