My dear friends, I will again start this post with pointing out that a win in a friendly normally doesn’t mean that much. Coaches will usually look at the progress, the style of play and whether it becomes 1-0 or 0-1, well… But not in this case!
Ronald Koeman lost his first game in charge. The Oranje squad has been on a losing streak basically since 2014. The media have been all over the Dutch. Even last Saturday the English media called us a disgrace. And our loyal fans all need a win too.
So this game did matter. Against the reigning Euro champs. Against our angstgegner. Against the culprit of the Battle of Neuremberg.
I personally believe the criticism on Oranje after the England game was uncalled for. Yes, we weren’t too good going forward, but we played compact and didn’t give a lot away. England didn’t create much either, did they?
But when Koeman announced to make 7 or so changes, I was worried a bit for this game. We know Portugal does have quality, they have confidence, they all play for big clubs, etc etc.
Sure, Portugal didn’t play as disciplined as England. And Portugal didn’t play as if their lives depended on it. All true.
But no team wants to lose 0-3 in the prep run for a World Cup. Don’t forget, some Portuguese players will need to demonstrate to their coach that they’re deserving of a spot on the plane, in summer.
So Oranje impressed me. Given the changes, given the lack of Robben/Sneijder/Blind, given the loss on Friday… They impressed really muchly.
Our midfield was a completely unrecognisable. Van de Beek impressed with his composure, his runs, his smarts (he’s still a young kid!) and Propper has grown a lot in England. He used to be a bit lacklustre, complacent. Not any more. Turning into a beautiful playmaker. Elegant on the ball and with that visor aimed forward. Always looking for the opening.
Even Wijnaldum, much maligned in Oranje, did well. Mr Risk-free, in his position, tends to square the ball a lot and take a lot of touches- and I do hope he’ll improve in that area – but he was strong on the ball and worked well with the rest of the midfield.
Babel also showed why Koeman selected him. He’s gotten some criticism on this blog, from me as well, but he demonstrated his value with his runs. Weghorst and Dost can’t play like this. In what was a 3-5-2 set up, Memphis and Babel did what they had to do. They were a threat, they worked the space and held up play well.
Tete was decent, Vilhena could well be the right wing back on the left for us, and the three central defenders were excellent yet again.
For me, Cillesen also demonstrated to be the number one. He oozes composure. Has great reflexes and stopped some good attempts while his footwork is just much better than Zoet’s…
The goals were great, in particular Babel’s header on right winger for the occasion De Ligt’s firm cross, and Van Dijk’s goal was a tremendous training ground goal. Deep cross by Memphis, cushioned header De Ligt and composed movement and finish by our skipper.
There is hope, people. With the likes of Blind and Frenkie de Jong coming in and some time as well, we should be able to compete. To qualify. And once we qualified, to be that dark horse again.
A bit more in detail now. Oranje changed some details in the way they executed the tactics.
England was too smart for our midfield on Friday, with the deeplying Henderson dropping back and Sterling coming into midfield. Our 2 men midfield didn’t cope with that. Koeman basically tried three different systems vs England. The starting 3-4-3, the change to 5-3-2 to deal with aforementioned midfield issues and later in the game, chasing it with 4-3-3.
For this Portugal game, he went with a mix of 5-3-2 and 3-5-2, tilting the team based on where the ball was. If the Portuguese left back had the ball, Tete would push forward which would mean De Ligt would drop to the RB spot and Van Dijk would tuck in too, with Propper dropping deeper (and vice versa).
The three in midfield meant we always had a spare man and the two forwards had more space to operate, not as bound to the wing as per usual. In particular Memphis had space he could work in. When he’s a real winger, he’s confronted with double markers and lack of movement in front of him. Now he could find the gaps and drive forward.
It seems Strootman has to worry about his spot. The Brighton midfielder Propper played an almost perfect game, finding space and finding the forward pass when he could. His controlling play before our centre backs was excellent.
Ronald Koeman was pleased: “We worked hard on this in the past days. We knew these were the accents we had to change and we practised it well. It’s great to see this result. But, one game, it doesn’t mean we’re there. I wanted to use the four friendlies for our new system and we might find it sooner of course. Portugal did come back strong in the second half though. I think we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t take advantage of the man-over situation in the second half.”
Justin Kluivert and Guus Til broke their duck for Oranje, as debutants. Kluivert had one good run to goal in which he wanted to offer Til the chance to score. If this had happened in an Ajax game, he would have cut inside and curl the ball in the top corner, no doubt.
Kluivert: “This is the happiest day of my life. I’m really proud, but I know I have a way to go if I want to be as good and important for Oranje as my dad. I’m on the way though and it tastes like more.”
The international media were highly positive about Oranje: “This Holland team looks like it is in good World Cup form.” The Portuguese media: “The only positive about the game is that we will go to the World Cup and Holland won’t.” The English media realised that two so-called EPL flops (Memphis and Babel) secured the win for Holland. The Belgium media: “What a demonstration! At times, Oranje dazzled like in days past and beats European Champs Portugal 0-3. C Ronaldo’s only contribution of the game was diving, crying to the ref and taking selfies with fans who came onto the pitch.”
The Italian press focused on Dutch defending: “C Ronaldo destroyed. He didn’t do anything and eventually got subbed. That tells the story.” The Spanish AS focused on the battle between Barca goalie Cillesen and Real forward Ronaldo: “The Dutch goalie kept his goal clean and was the man of the match for Oranje.”
The Dutch “experts” about the game.
1974 and 1978 phenomenon Arie Haan: “We have enough quality but we need to stay grounded. There is enough positives, like Van Dijk, a European top player. And De Ligt is probably the biggest defensive talent in Europe currently. And Donny van de Beek is going to be important for the team. Dynamic, great passer and dribbler and he can score as well.”
Denny Landzaat (ex Ajax and AZ): “The backline deserves the credits and kudos, but I want to mention Ryan Babel, with his speed and his ball control and hold up play. I’m sure the whole team will play better with a guy like him up top. And Jesper Cillesen is a strongholder too. Great feet and tremendous reflexes.”
Aad de Mos (ex Ajax, Mechelen and Anderlecht coach): “This win is not coincidental. Koeman is a shrewd tactician. And there’s enough quality in the squad. The back four is strong. I would definitely use Daley Blind as left back when he’s fit, but Davy Propper deserves the spot in midfield. Perfect two-footed. The only thing we lack is a good striker, but Steven Bergwijn could fill that role. I want to see him too.”
It seems Mathijs de Ligt missed out on C Ronaldo’s jersey. “I think seven others beat me to it. Not sure who has it.” In 5 years C Ronaldo will lament the fact he missed the chance to get De Ligt’s jersey….
You can watch the full game here. Download links in the comments on that link.