I knew the day had to come. The day that Memphis got (some of) his mojo back. It would have been unthinkable that a lad with so much talent would just waste away. Yesterday, Danny Blind needed him. And told him “Memphis, I need you to make a difference!”. And he did.
Earlier on, when Blind was questioned for selecting Depay, he said he trusted his talent. After the Luxembourg game, he added: “I’m not surprised by his turn today. He’s training well. He still has it. I think the difficult time at Man U has made him better.”
It was all about Robben’s return. The 32 year old super winger was missing in action for Oranje for a year (to the day). Our talisman was needed to turn Oranje’s self doubt into swagger. And he does and he did. Whether it was in interviews, press conferences or just that all important difficult look on his face when stepping out of the players’ bus. Robben brings professionalism. The Bayern man was alive in the first half and could have scored 2 or 3. That it was him to break open the score was not a surprise. Passing the ball with his gifted left foot past the goalie. Klaassen had tried it before, Sneijder had an attempt, it was crowded, hasty and nervous. But whenever Robben had the ball, it was all pure class.
A little muscle twitch in the final stages of the first half, however, saw Robben walking off with a grimace on his face. The former Groningen man wanted to keep on going, but the Oranje medical staff advised against it. “Don’t take the risk!”. And he listened. Wesley Sneijder had a tough match too. He was struggling with the abysmal pitch and couldn’t put his stamp on the game. Danny Blind: “I felt the need to go play with two real wingers. Taking Robben off (Berghuis) was a disappointment for us and Arjen, but I wanted to bring Memphis for Wesley to have a better positioning on the field.”
So, the two veterans who were supposed to lead Oranje to success were subbed and two question marks were brought on. And it was Memphis in particular, who took the game by the
hand foot. And head. As the little mercurial forward scored his first goal (Oranje’s second) with a C Ronaldo like header on a cross from his ManUnited buddy Daley Blind. The second Memphis goal was a free-kick. After many failed attempts to hit the target from a setpiece in the famous George Best jersey, he finally got it right in an Oranje shirt.
At that time, Luxembourg was already done for. The minions defended like..eh… lions and in particular their goalie had a field day, refusing the likes of Robben, Klaassen and Wijnaldum earlier in the game. The 0-1 was supposed to have come earlier, so Oranje could work on the goal difference. But the goalie and his ferocious defenders – aided by a horrible pitch – stopped Oranje from opening the flood gates. And when we finally got the 0-1, a bad judgement call by Joshua Brenet got Luxembourg on the score sheet. Stekelenburg was able to thwart Man City twice from the spot, but Maxime Chanot did the job: 1-1.
They key for Oranje was to win. And they did. We hoped to see more goals, more flair and more flow but the circumstances were not helping. A bad pitch, a mixed up line up, ferocious defending and a good goalie didn’t help. The Oranje performance was well below par, but with the three points in the bag, it gives some breathing space to the Oranje staff to try and get things right. And Arjen Robben will definitely be at hand to help.
During Holland – France in March, when he wasn’t playing, he was seen debating the tactics with the technical staff during the match. Against Belgium, when Holland was forced to play 5-3-2 with Wijnaldum playing right wing back, again, there was footage of Robben moving in to talk to Hoek and Blind about what was going on. Robben might be our playing captain/coach… He is also the man who reaches a top level whenever he’s fit and shows the confidence and aims for the level we fans are so longing for.
Arjen Robben, after the match: “I’ll be honest with you, I was a bit shocked when I saw our level today. We were not good. Stray passes, not enough movement, bad decision making. Not what I’m used to and definitely not good enough. We will need to improve. A lot!”
There were mitigating circumstances of course. For starters, Luxembourg parking the bus. Secondly the pitch was dramatic. Thirdly, we played in a new line up yet again, with two debutants as well. I also believe that a goal in the first 15 minutes would have helped. Now, we scored late and 8 minutes later, Luxembourg got their penalty, lifting their spirit.
Joshua Brenet had mixed feelings. “I am happy with Memphis’ two goals. Otherwise I would have felt like shit. I’ll thank him for this. I don’t think it was a penalty though. It happened outside of the box. He didn’t it smartly. Ran across me and then slowed down so I would bump into him. Then he went down as if he was shot. The ref saw it differently. He said I pulled him down. That didn’t even happen! But that guy did it smartly and I was fooled.”
Bas Dost is another player with mixed feelings. The Sporting striker is known for his ferocious fighting mentality and self criticism: “Listen, I’m happy. Of course. This is a team sports and our team won. Great, but I would have wanted to do better. I really wanted to score and be important. I can do much better than this. But, sometimes the ball doesn’t get to you and you need to work for the team.”
Just like Luuk de Jong is not good enough for Oranje’s aspiring top level, the same applies for Bast Dost. He is just a good super sub. It’s surprising that Danny Blind still doesn’t want to use Robin van Persie in games like this. He’s smart, experienced and has the quality – like Robben – to decide games with one action. The return of Robben showed a similar approach by the Oranje players as we saw with Argentina-Brazil a couple of days ago. All balls on Robben! And with Argentina: all balls to Messi! Sneijder was isolated on that left wing and I think if we want to utilise Sneijder he should play on the #10 position. I can imagine Blind will play 5-3-2 or 4-5-1 vs France away, but against Bulgaria and teams like that, surely Sneijder can play as shadow striker behind Janssen?
Ramselaar was breath of fresh air. His movement, workrate and forward thinking is needed in this midfield. With Wijnaldum, Bruma and Van Dijk, he was the one of the positives.
Wijnaldum has become a real workhorse in his current role (just as with Liverpool), a long way from his trickster game when playing for Feyenoord as a dreadlocked Gullit wannabe. The spotlights are less on him now, but his role is invaluable. Daley Blind played a mediocre first half but with Memphis in front of him, the ManU player could combine more and penetrate. His cross was the assist for the 1-2 and he also put Memphis one v one with the Luxembourg goalie. Marten de Roon was watching Oranje vs Belgium in England, on the couch, but made his debut late in the Luxembourg game. Pretty proud to mention that he is the first player of my own old amateur club ASWH to reach Oranje! (Started at ASWH, left for Feyenoord youth and then Sparta Academy. The rest is history)
De Roon: “I got chills when the coach said I had to prepare to go on. It’s a dream come true. When I went to Feyenoord I hoped to reach the top. Some players go the direct route. I had to go via Sparta, Heerenveen, Atalanta and now Middlesbrough. I don’t care. I played 3 minutes in Oranje and I’m happy as can be. The coach did give me some homework. He said I need to be a bit more domineering. Asking for the ball, not just destroying and passing into others. He believes I can do much more in possession. I know this, he’s right. I will work on it. This experience is fantastic and I long for more.”
Danny Blind was realistic: “I know we didn’t play great, but the circumstances weren’t ideal. Missing around 10 players never helps. And Luxembourg has gotten better through the years. This is their best team ever. You don’t win 0-7 just like that anymore. I think we could have scored earlier and if you then score the 0-2 in the first half, you can play yourself to more in the second. But we didn’t take the chances and one mistake puts them back in the game. It has an effect. Luckily we did the business in the second half, and we have the 3 points we needed.”