Netherlands are back at the World Cup after missing out in 2018 and although it took a little while, they showed what they are capable of. For the first 80 minutes of their game against Senegal, Netherlands were well-matched by the African champions and found themselves on the back foot at times. But like successful teams in the past, Netherlands found a way.
Cody Gakpo was the hero in the 84th minute, rising bravely to challenge Edouard Mendy in the air, winning the header against the Senegal goalkeeper’s fists to glance the ball into the back of the net from Frenkie de Jong’s cross. Davy Klaassen then put the shine on the win in injury time, tapping in after Mendy pushed a shot into his path, handing Netherlands their first World Cup win in eight years.
Ecuador, meanwhile, took on hosts Qatar in their opening match and broke the hearts of a nation. The odds were in their favour going into the game, given Qatar’s infancy on the world stage, but Ecuador may still have been feeling some pressure given the occasions. If they did, it didn’t show, especially as Enner Valencia put the ball in the back of the net after just five minutes. Sure, the goal was eventually ruled out for offside following a lengthy VAR review, but it set the precedent for the match and gave Ecuador confidence.
By half-time Ecuador were 2-0 up thanks to a Valencia brace, including the opener from the penalty spot, and ultimately cruised to victory by that same scoreline. The win means Ecuador have already equalled their number of wins for their last appearance at the World Cup, in 2014. In fact, only in 2006 have they managed more than one victory, securing two en route to the round of 16.
Both teams know victory here could already secure a spot in the last 16 should the result in Qatar vs Senegal go their way.
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As mentioned, it was Gakpo who opened the scoring for Netherlands and it wasn’t going to be anyone else. The PSV man has been in excellent form for his club this season in the league and Europa League, directly involved in 26 goals across 19 games. Twelve of those involvements have come through goals, with Gakpo the leading scorer in the Eredivisie – ahead of compatriots Brian Brobbey, Steven Bergwijn and Xavi Simons, with the latter two joining him in the Dutch squad.
Ecuador’s game against Qatar saw 30 fouls conceded with each side taking 15 – no team has conceded more at the World Cup so far. But Netherlands are no angels themselves, conceding 13 fouls in their 2-0 win over Senegal on Monday.
Valencia will feel confident of adding to his curtain-raising brace, but Oranje have a (not so) secret weapon between the sticks. A relative unknown before the Netherlands’ opener against Senegal, Andries Noppert made his international debut alongside his World Cup debut, and he marked the occasion with a clean sheet.
Never one to make a run-of-the-mill decision when it comes to goalkeepers, it was typical Van Gaal to spring a surprise with his selection. Noppert vindicated the roll of the dice. If Oranje make a deep run in the competition, the 28-year-old will become a household name, not least because he is currently the tallest player at this year’s World Cup.
Standing at 203cm, or 6ft 8in, the Heerenveen shot-stopper is an absolute monster between the sticks. Having muzzled a potentially dangerous Senegal attack earlier this week, the towering gloveman will now have confidence to back up his physical prowess. Valencia will do well to breach his net.