The task was clear. No room for discussion: a win and lots and lots of goals. Because goal difference is next in line if countries finish level at points. Then it’s number of goals scored and lastly it’s the results between said countries.
Oranje only did half the job. But not for lack of trying. Oranje had around 35 attempts and only scored twice. Tally off two as these were headed on the bar and the rest was blocked by a sublime goalie, a heel, knee or elbow… A frustrating evening for a team bolstered by the presence of 5,000 fans. Who loved everything they saw.
Oranje walked off the pitch while being applauded by the grateful fans, grateful for the match and for the fact they could be there. The team got the message. They needed to attack. And attack they did, but the canons weren’t aimed properly, with Memphis in particular more and more frustrated if he was again thwarted by the courageous Latvians.
The Dutch had 96 touches in the Latvian box, that is a record from the start date Opta started to tally these things, in 2013. The previous record was 51 (!) touches, against Estonia.
Did we give most if not all of the players a low mark against the Turks, this time around all players got a decent rating, after the game. They played fresh and created chances, but the goal tally was a disappointment. Overall, Steven Berghuis – scoring his first goal in 5 years for Oranje, after 25 attempts on goal, Mathijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong were awarded the highest rates.
A further analysis of the game gives us some interesting insights. Frank de Boer’s name is said to be synonymous with square and back passes: “knitting”, as we call it. De Boer takes a stance against that, and justly so. “We have has a high pace of circulation in the past games and a quick pass forwards. We have Blind and Frenkie in key roles and their biggest strength is the vision and forward pass. In the Turkey match, we played a back pass to Krul, our first, in the 83rd minute!”
Which is logical, as this photo above shows what the second half vs Turkey looked like. Turkey had 11 players behind the ball, on their own half protecting their lead. To break open an opponent like this, you sometimes need to knit the ball from left to right and back again, just to spot that moment of lack of concentration. It may seem like knitting, but it’s basically prowling. Under Koeman, for instance, 25% of all the passes Oranje played, were between the two centre halves. That is a lot.
A difference with the Koeman Oranje is that under De Boer, vs Latvia, the flanks became important. Using Luuk de Jong as target man will further emphasize this.
This opportunity for Klaassen in the 6th minute is a typical example of the sort of football Oranje plays, using the wide men and the half spaces for penetration.
Dumfries and Berghuis are on the right flank. Wijnaldum pops up in the half space and makes a darting run deep. The only real option he has now is to chip the ball in, which he did. This almost resulted in a goal.
A similar example in the second half. Wijndal and Dumfries will stay a bit more inside when the team is building up, but in the final third they both play very wide, allowing the left and right wingers (Memphis and Berghuis) to move inside. In this case, it’s clear what is coming: a cross from the right.
Instead of knitting football, we can call this casino football. The difficulty to get it right is high. You can cross balls in or use the half spaces, but the final ball usually ends up in a melee of legs and players. It’s actually a turn around situation that gifts us the first goal. Memphis repossesses the ball, De Jong pulls several opponents in with his run and Dumfries makes a dummy run to give Berghuis the space to come inside and use his wand of a left foot. Luuk de Jong scored from a corner in the second half with a good header. As Frank de Boer called it: A text book header.
This Latvia had drawn twice against the Far Oer Islands and lost at Malta. So goals were bound to come. And we only had one iffy situation where they could have broken 3 v 2 as our full backs were both on their bike forward, but Wijnaldum snuffed out the danger.
There was one more opportunity with a long ball but the speed of Wijndal and a perfectly timed tackle were enough to stop the threat.
When De Boer was asked what would have been a more proper score for this match, he said: “That is easy. We should have scored 8 goals or so. We know the goal difference can be key and we shot ourselves a bit in the foot. But the lads don’t head the ball on the cross bar on purpose, of course.” De Boer was positive, otherwise: “I did enjoy watching them, we had energy, we were constantly threatening but it was also frustrating to see that the ball simply would want to go in… I did think the one attack was even better than the next. We went left, then right and through the middle. But we were unlucky. Their goalie played ever so well or a defender helped out. I can’t remember when we were this dominant last against a nation like Latvia.”
Both Memphis and Wijnaldum were subbed by the coach and both were not too pleased. “I can understand that. It was frustrating for them as they wanted to score more goals and felt they could. But we are not doing this with 11 players. We have 24 capable lads and they are all part of this process and deserve a chance. It’s a team process. And Wijnaldum has played a lot of games for Liverpool and I wanted him to take a rest.”
Next up Gibraltar. The task again, is clear. Three points and lots of goals!
You can expect the following line up:
Dumfries – De Ligt – Frenkie – Blind
Klaassen – Wijnaldum – Van de Beek – Gravenberch
Berghuis – Luuk de Jong – Memphis
Result: 1-0, Ryan Babel (sub) scores in the 92nd minute.
Just kidding, it will be more than 5 goals of course, with Luuk de Jong and this time also Memphis on the score sheet.