Senegal 0 – 2 Netherlands
(Group A, Al Thumama Stadium, 21/11/2022)
Another game between two teams whose FIFA rankings are in the top twenty and one which was anticipated to be entertaining and possibly high scoring. Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy both started for Senegal (FIFA ranking: 18) who were without Mane. Goalkeeper Noppert was making his international debut for the Netherlands (FIFA ranking: 8). Their starting line-up also included former Chelsea defender Nathan Ake.
The game was pretty open from the outset. Senegal looked like they wanted to get the ball forward quickly. They had some pace up front and it appeared that they might pose a threat on the break. The Netherlands seemed to adopt a more methodical approach, trying to play their way around the Senegalese.
The first glimpse of a chance went to Senegal when van Dijk was momentarily caught out of position but a good covering block by de Jong halted the attack. The first good chance came when de Ligt, advancing down the right wing, knocked the ball inside to Jansen who played it to the right side of the area for Gakpo. He drove a low cross, just a shade too far in front of the stretching Bergwijn, that was deflected behind another attacker coming in at the far post. Had the ball reached that player, he would almost certainly have scored with Mendy stranded, way out of position, at the near post. Senegal had a reasonable effort after the Netherlands lost the ball trying to play out from the back. The ball fell to Idrissa Gueye who laid the ball back for it to be knocked first-time into Sarr who had come into a central position just outside the D. Sarr turned quickly and shot over the bar. A good pass by Gakpo found Dumfries in space out wide on the right. There were good options available but the cross was cleared.
The next reasonable effort came after Blind ran down the left, passed inside to Bergwijn who touched the ball back for it to be passed straight back to Blind continuing with his run. Blind’s cross went over Dumfires but found the feet of Gakpo by the right touch line near the corner flag. His deep cross found Blind arriving at the far post to head a yard wide. Blind later found himself on the right of the defence clearing long. The ball was picked up by Bergwijn around halfway. He ran forward, checked back, turned and sent a diagonal ball to Berghuis who advanced towards the edge of the box before sliding the ball across the area towards de Jong. When de Jong took the ball at the left of the D there wasn’t a defender anywhere near him and Mendy had advanced only as far as the edge of his 6-yard box. It was a great opportunity but the defenders were rapidly making up the ground. Having beaten the first defender de Jong should have shot quickly. The second defender running back blocked de Jong as he tried to go past him, the third cleared. The best opportunity yet had gone begging. Koulibaly launched a long diagonal ball to find Sarr to the left of the penalty area. Sarr dropped his shoulder, beat the defender easily, attempting to curl the ball into the far top corner as he ran into the box. The shot went too close to van Dijk who headed clear.
Sarr stood out as Senegal’s best player and he certainly had the upper hand over de Ligt. Similarly, Gakpo was the standout player for the Netherlands. No wonder that Premier League clubs are showing an interest in him. Marshalling his team from midfield, de Jong also caught the eye.
It was a fairly even game overall. The Senegalese had often worried the Dutch defence, but their efforts tended to be from distance. They didn’t really create any clear-cut chances in front of goal. The Dutch with good movement, one- and two-touch football plus accurate passing had created better chances close to goal and so had edged the first half.
The game followed a similar pattern in the second half. Early on, a strong run on the right from Gakpo won a corner from which Van Dijk headed over. A poor pass by de Jong gave Senegal the ball on the edge of the box but they couldn’t capitalize on his mistake. Blind and Dumfries got into good positions out wide, but their crosses were not productive as the Senegal defence crowded out the forwards. Some good skill by Sarr looked to have set up a promising attack but there was no real incision and the potential threat was ended by Ake’s clearance. It looked as if the game might end in a stalemate.
Had he been fully match-fit, Depay may well have started the game. He was brought on for Janssen just after the hour mark. It proved to be a significant substitution by van Gaal (The Iron Tulip).
A yellow card was given to de Ligt following a foul on Sarr not long after Koulibaly was extremely fortunate not to be carded for an equally poor challenge. Senegal got easy possession in midfield after a poor touch by de Jong. The ball rebounded to Diatta who advanced passing the ball to Dia on the right side of the area. With two defenders in attendance, Dia swiveled and hit a low shot goalward. Noppert dived to his left to save low at the near post. Kouyate was stretchered off with a bit more than 15 minutes to go and was replaced by Papa Gueye. Following a run down the left Sarr cut the ball back to the edge of the box where Idrissa Gueye, in a central position, hit a powerful shot at goal. The shot was straight at Noppert who saved easily. Anyway, offside given – a Senegal player was in the goalkeeper’s eyeline.
Entering the final 10 minutes, it looked as if the game might peter out still scoreless. Many would have thought that a fair result. With 6 minutes left, a cross from the right found Depay who lifted the ball over a defender before it was cleared, falling to de Jong. He played the ball out wide to Blind who played it just inside the area where Depay pushed it back to de Jong who put in a teasing cross. Mendy came out to the edge of the 6-yard box to punch clear but Gakpo, running in from the right, beat him to it and headed in. Quite simply, Mendy should have got there first. That goal would surely win the game.
A few minutes later, another effort from outside the box saw Senegal come close to equalizing. Substitute Jackson, near the dead ball line, put the ball back out to the right touchline for Sabaly. He passed inside to Papa Gueye who turned and hit a low shot. It looked it would just sneak inside the near post with Noppert a touch too far away from it. The 6’ 8” keeper again dived low to make a fingertip save at full stretch.
Normal time ended with 9 added minutes still to play. That time had just about elapsed when Koopmeiners, just inside the Senegal half, headed a long clearance into the path of Depay who was one-on-one with Koulibaly. Koulibaly appeared to be keeping pace with, and the right side of, Depay but at the edge of the penalty area Depay checked to create just enough space to cut inside and aim a shot at the corner of the goal to Mendy’s left. Mendy dived but parried the straight back out rather than out wide. The ball went straight to Klaassen who gleefully put the ball into the net. Klaassen had made a great run to get into that position. He was just inside his own half when Koopmeiners headed the ball, sprinting cleverly behind the retreating defenders to be the first onto Mendy’s parry.
The final score exaggerated the difference between the teams (at least statistically). Senegal can take some positives from the game, e.g., they had more shots and more shots on target than the Dutch. A striker of Mane’s calibre is a big miss though and a lack of goals may see Senegal struggle.
Apart from when he was isolated for the second Dutch goal, Koulibaly played reasonably well and looked solid enough. His pace was not really tested. Mendy’s recent form indicates a lack of confidence and that was evident here. No doubt he will generally be held culpable for both goals.
If England progress from Group B, they could meet either of these sides. The consensus of punditry wisdom is that neither team would pose any great threat.
Posted by the CSG’s World Cup Willie