Football Features

“A class apart” – The Netherlands end Wales’ unbeaten run with a stoppage time stunner in Cardiff

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:09, 8 June 2022

Wales put in a spirited display against a much-changed Netherlands side but fell to a 1-2 defeat in the Nations League.

Rob Page made several changes himself after the weekend’s heroics against Ukraine, but given the Netherlands were absent all of their stars it was an even battle, with Wales looking very bright in the first-half.

The second-half belonged to the Netherlands, however. Five minutes into the second period, Teun Koopmeiners slotted a stunning shot low into the bottom corner of the net to cap a flowing Dutch move.

And for the rest of normal time that goal looked like it would be enough. That one moment of true quality was going to bury the Welsh team in a perfect metaphor for the fortunes of the Welsh national side.

Losing in that manner felt so apt because Rob Page’s team are never found wanting for application and intensity, but moments of true attacking brilliance elude them unless Gareth Bale is on the field.

Good job that Gareth Bale came off the bench late on then, isn’t it? And while Bale’s biggest contribution to the match involved him tracking down and tackling Frenkie De Jong in full flight, his presence must have had an empowering effect on his team-mates.

Two minutes into stoppage time Connor Roberts picked the ball up on the right and launched a magnificent cross deep into the back-post where Sheffield United’s Rhys Norrington-Davies rose like a salmon, dominating Hans Hateboer and thumping a header into the net.

A storming strike that lifted the entire stadium and seemed to have rescued a point for the Welsh. A crucial point as it would have seem Wales extend their home unbeaten run to 20 matches.

Wales last tasted defeat at home in the first edition of the Nations League back in 2018 when they lost 1-2 to Denmark. Since then they have won 13 games and drawn six, showing remarkable consistency and resiliance.

And it looked like they were going to make it 20 without loss, but Frenkie De Jong had other ideas. The Barcelona midfielder showed a moment of pure class as he drove through the heart of the Welsh midfield with the ball, pulling bodies towards him he fed it wide to Tyrell Malacia and the Feyenoord full-back whipped in a devilish cross which was met by an even better headed finish from Wout Weghorst.

Wales lose 1-2 at home again. Their streak snapped by the Dutch reserves (with a little help from the Dutch starters). It’s not that Wales are a bad side, but this game highlights that there is definitely a class above them that no amount of graft and organisation can bridge. Their only hope in games like this is to play with such dogged determination and intensity that the opponent’s ability is subdued.

But tonight at least, when the Dutch put their foot down they were a class apart and Wales simply couldn’t keep up. No one would ever discredit the Welsh side nor rule them out of a game such is the power of their supporters, their organisation and their self belief, but looking at things honestly this game felt like a preview of any World Cup match against quality opposition.