Cody Gakpo and Frenkie de Jong earn top spot for Netherlands as Qatar lose again | World Cup 2022

The Netherlands are in the last 16 as winners of Group A. It was the gallop of a victory which had a strike from Cody Gakpo making him the tournament’s co-top scorer, with three alongside Kylian Mbappé and Enner Valencia , plus a goal for Frenkie de Jong, who had been under time in the build-up.

So, as Qatar bows out world Cup with only one goal and zero points, the Netherlands can start dreaming a little. What a romantic story would be a first triumph for the Oranjes under Louis van Gaal: To see prostate cancer return at age 71 to guide his nation to world glory would be straight out of the top drawer of heartbreaking storylines.

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There is, of course, a long way to go and the Netherlands will have to improve the quality and speed of their game, but they ask the players to do so. Memphis Depay, making a first start from Qatar 2022, is one and he was the key to his team’s first game.

If the contest was a technical mismatch by a few classes, Van Gaal’s men were heavy in possession, rekindling memories of how he drilled his 2014-16 Manchester United to be a hard-working, full-back side. A lack of thrust is fine when protecting a late lead and the ball is the goal, but no penetration when the level gives up the initiative and Qatar has therefore grown in confidence.

The Netherlands responded and Depay played his part in Gakpo’s goal, tapping in Daley Blind’s pass to the PSV man. The latter executed a one-two with Davy Klaassen and with three Qataris closing, danced all the way and rolled home for his third in three outings.

Qatar’s three-time losing runners-up top was hardly news, but there were fleeting moments of promise from Félix Sánchez’s men, one of which had Abdelkarim Hassan breaking down the left and sweeping a ball that Virgil van Dijk, once again, had to clear. But the game brought to light a Qatar fault line: the inability of those in white to break numbers, meaning Hassan had no one to aim for and so he had only hope.

A soporific half-time ended with an effort from Depay and the teams leave with, surely, only one possible winner. Yet in that endeavor, Akram Afif kept the Netherlands – and Nathan Aké – honest as he fired a free-kick past Andries Noppert which the Manchester City defender had to clear with his forehead.

Frankie Young

Ruthlessness can make the difference at this level and Van Gaal’s men showed how by doubling the lead. After a few shimmies, Denzel Dumfries sent the ball to Klaassen, his cross from the right was deflected off Depay, whose control allowed him to shoot on goal. Meshaal Barsham made a brave save but De Jong, who admitted to having a sore throat beforehand, hammered home.

For the final stage, Van Gaal could withdraw Klaassen and Depay for Vincent Janssen and Steven Berghuis respectively. The coach nearly enjoyed an instant dividend when the pair combined, but Berghuis’ arrival was called off, via VAR, for a Gakpo handball earlier in the move. Dumfries also closed in on a third but Barsham was able to swing his close-range attempt around his left post.

The Netherlands, therefore, crosses the coast. They can, and will, perform better to continue to the final.

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