Confidence was high. Coaches always like to use outside enemies to pump up morale. In Blind’s case, the sk-fuffle happening at the KNVB seemed to have brought more unity and courage into the team. Winning friendlies (England at Wembley) and playing well vs Sweden, culminating in a 4-1 win over Belarus… Game #3 was vs France, the top favorite of this group, and Oranje believed it had a chance to win.
Even though it played a game for the first time in a long time without one of the Great Four (Van Persie, Sneijder, Van der Vaart, Robben).
Blind as the team manager does not have the opportunity to buy players he lacks. We currently are struggling to find a replacement for Robben (is it Memphis? Is it Promes?) and Sneijder (Ziyech would do nicely, thank you very much).
Propper does well as right midfielder for PSV in a more dominating set up. Klaassen is important for Ajax (skipper), while Fer is growing in stature in England.
I think Blind got it wrong with this line up. I personally believe with Griezmann playing through the middle, a player like Clasie (explosive and low center of gravity) would work well, especially as Clasie as the passing range of Sneijder. Strootman would have been the ideal box to box man on midfield next to Wijnaldum and Klaassen as false left winger.
Well…they did have a chance. But only if France would allow it. And they didn’t. The French had more of everything in the first half. They found each other easily, they got the second and loose balls, their running and movement, the physical challenges, the speed… France was on top of Oranje, but Oranje did show some bravery. Taking the set back of Promes early injury in their stride (Memphis replaced him and was greeted with an ovation by the crowd), Oranje tried to get France on the counter. France dominated and converted this into the 0-1 when – who else? – Paul Pogba was offered ample space and time in midfield to have a pop. Strootman didn’t get close enough and Stekelenburg was tricked by the dip of the ball. While Stekelenburg was flying to the corner of the goal, the ball suddenly dropped a couple of inches and the ball richocet’d into the net…
Oranje played with intensity though. Rick Karsdorp again one of the high lights, on the right flank, creating opportunities. But Holland wasn’t able to get one shot on target, during the first half. That says something. The only real talking point for Holland was the wonderful trickery by Janssen in the box, who saw his shot blocked by Koscielny, who actually – unknowingly – smacked the ball away with his arm. The players appealed, the ref waived it away. A 50-50 for me. Some refs give the pen, others don’t. There are no clear rules and as a result we’ll keep on moaning and groaning about these situations.
In the second half, Oranje started with more pizzazz and guile. Strootman directed the team forward and Janssen got the better of Varane more often. The Gerd Muller / Mark Hughes -type striker is great with his back to the goal and had his moments wrestling himself past defenders. Oranje got closer and closer and fought themselves back into the game. Obviously, leaving themselves a tad vulnerable and everytime France countered, they looked dangerous. But a close header of Pogba and some threatening runs were thwarted by Stekelenburg (who aquitted himself very well after his mistake on the goal) and some awesome defending by Van Dijk, who was a rock at the back and up front.
Oranje pressed more in the second half and huffed and puffed but a bad free kick – inswinger – by Memphis was officially the first shot on target in the 72nd minute of the game. The Man United sub did get a massive chance a tad later when a loose ball dropped from the sky and Janssen found Depay onside in the box. With his back to goal, the former PSV star had to turn and hit the target and actually didn’t do much wrong. The ball simply didn’t go wide enough from Lloris, who was able to block the shot and grab the ball before Dost could pounce.
Oranje deserved an equaliser against a stronger team. The possession stats were even and Holland have 10 attempts vs 14 attempts by France. But the final pass / cross wasn’t good enough and a tad more venom in the final third would have been key to break the deadlock. With Bas Dost for the injured Wijnaldum, coach Blind tried to force the issue but literally there was no cross coming the Sporting striker’s way. Jetro Willems was brought in as right midfielder to curl balls into the box (replacing the disappointing Propper, yellow-carded), but to no effect.
France grabs the three points and is now the proud leader of the group.
Danny Blind: “I think the lads deserve a compliment. We were in the game and deserved at least one point, against a very strong team. Our organisation was mostly excellent but we lost the ball to easily in the first half. But France put a lot of pressure on and the pace was deadly. It wasn’t easy. The penalty shout? Well, I think a ref could give it. He touched it twice and knocked the ball out of the danger area.”
About the France goal: “That wasn’t necessary. Bruma had a loose pass, Stootman didn’t close Pogba down and I think Stekelenburg could have done better. Shoot a ball like this at him 10 times and he’ll stop it 8 or 9 times. Maarten knows this too, I’m sure.”
Captain Strootman copped a second yellow and is out for the next game (Luxembourg). “The goal was not necessary. I think I allowed him too much space and Maarten might have done better. But you know, you play France, they will get scoring opportunities… It’s almost unavoidable.”
Virgil van Dijk: “This is shit. We played ok but have nothing to show for it. If Memphis’ ball would have gone it, we would be standing here differently.”
The Oranje goalie: “It was one of those weird dipping balls. I was diving and could see the ball making those spins. Yes, it was a mistake. I should have had that. But I don’t think it was a howler. I think we should have gotten more from this game, even though we didn’t create a lot. But the road is still long. We’ll get the chance to make this right.”
Vincent Janssen: “It was a 100% penalty! But we didn’t get it. And this is the third qualification game where the ref makes a mistake. The Sweden game, we scored the winner fair and square. Van Dijk scored a fair goal vs Belarus. Ok, that mistake didn’t cost us, but now… Anyway, we fought like a team and we even could have nicked a goal in the last minutes. We are disappointed but at the same time, we’re on the up and up.”
My comments on the players:
Stekelenburg: Clearly had to stop the Pogba attempt, but had a good game overall and recovered well stopping more French attempts. His distribution with his feet could be better though.
Rick Karsdorp: Again one of the better players. Good energy. Good focus. Made his usual mistakes defending as can be expected from a debutant but was always available on the right and had some excellent crosses into the box.
Jeffrey Bruma: Still hasn’t convinced me. Seems to struggle to read the game. Seems late in response to balls over the top. Distribution and build up needs to improve big time. Defensively alright, but guilty of the loose pass that got France the goal.
Virgil van Dijk: Rock solid. Strong in possession, good defending, staying on his feet and very alert. A threat going forward as well.
Daley Blind: Again, one of the most consistent on the pitch. Always alert, always available, always good decision making. Steady performance by the Man United man.
Kevin Strootman: Overall a good game, although still looking leggy at times and needs to up his pace in congested areas. Plays a risk avoiding style (probably comes with the role he plays) but could have demonstrated some more guile passing forward.
Gini Wijnaldum: Bit hot and cold, had some excellent movements and passages of play only to suddenly play weak balls or pulling out of challenges. Gave a lot and ended the game prematurely with a hamstring scare.
Davey Propper: Bit wasted as playmaker in the Sneijder role. Needed to work hard and in possession lacking the energy and venom to create something. Seems to play in one pace only and went from stylist to work horse, which is not his game. (I’m a big Propper fan, but I think Blind should have picked Clasie as the holding mid and allow Strootman to play the box to box role with Wijnaldum close to Janssen).
Davey Klaassen: Slow start at the left, moved to the right in the second half. Worked hard but was never able to affect the game. Did good battle and put in a good shift, but his role normally is to join into attack into the box. That didn’t happen this game.
Quiny Promes: Started lively but played too short to say anything about
Vincent Janssen: Started the game anonymously. Had it rough against two strong center backs but fought himself into the game and was the usual handful with his attempt being handled by Koscielsny and the would-be assist on Memphis. Turned and spinned Varane whenever he could and really led the line.
Memphis Depay: Clearly lacking form, rhythm and confidence but played good for the team, worked hard and tried to create. There were hints of his class and he almost became the hero with a difficult attempt on the spin late in the game.
Bas Dost: Was supposed to be the battering ram, forcing a break through but the service simply wasn’t there. Not one cross ended up where Dost was. Worked hard, but nothing to show for.
Danny Blind: Seems to have brought confidence and joy back to the team. With clarity on the playing style and the frame of the starting eleven. Normally, with a fit De Vrij, Vlaar, Robben and Sneijder, Holland will be a good dark horse, as per usual. The Dutch fans and media start to warm up to the stoic and head strong coach.