September 2 – The Netherlands stumbled to a disappointing 1-1 draw against Norway in World Cup qualifying on Louis van Gaal’s return to the Dutch dug-out, prompting the veteran coach to call his own team “sloppy” with pressure growing on Oranje.
Van Gaal doesn’t do debuts with the Netherlands well. In the past, he drew with Ireland and lost to Belgium and on Wednesday a new-look Netherlands did little to suggest they will reach Qatar next year.
The veteran coach commenced his third Oranje reign the way he has always done – with a mind and vision of his own; confrontational and self-assured, even if he only had two days to train his team. He ditched Frank de Boer’s ill-fated 5-3-2 formation and reverted to type with a 4-3-3. In goal, Justin Bijlow debuted and there were surprise starts for both Jurrien Timber, at right-back, and Cody Gakpo.
But, after a bright Dutch opening spell, Van Gaal’s bold plans backfired when the unstoppable Erling Haaland struck after 20 minutes. The Oranje defense were nervous and frightened whenever the striker touched the ball. In a 4-4-2, the Norwegians were happy to sit back and counter, but were unable to stop Davy Klaassen equalising out of nowhere in the 36th minute – his sixth Oranje goal.
After the restart, the Dutch maintained possession with Frenkie de Jong in the number six role, but chances were reserved for the hosts and Haaland’s attempt ricocheted off the woodwork after a lightening-fast Norwegian counter. The Dutch energy and intensity dropped off and at no point did they look like breaking Norway’s compact, defensive game. Van Gaal admitted that his team had been “sloppy”.
“We can think that this Dutch team is top of the world, but we aren’t,” added Van Gaal.
The draw leaves the Netherlands in a precarious position with a crunch qualifier against group leaders Turkey to come next week in Amsterdam.
After a disappointing 2-2 draw against Montenegro, conceding an equalizer in the 97th minute, the Turkish maintain narrow control of Group E with eight points from four matches. Norway and the Netherlands both trail by a point. The group winners will claim a ticket for the 2022 World Cup with the runners-up condemned to the play-offs.
The Netherlands’ recent tournament record has been dismal, exiting Euro 2020 in the round of 16 and failing to qualify for both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2016. Van Gaal led Oranje to bronze in 2014, but in his first reign as Dutch supremo the Netherlands were eliminated in the 2002 qualifiers in a group with Portugal and Ireland.
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