The Netherlands inflicted a shock 3-0 defeat on Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. in Geneva last night – something to lift hopes of Oranje fans of a solid rebuilding.
A 3-0 thumping of the reigning European champions is a great way to kick-start the process of rebuilding. That’s just what the Oranje did on Monday night under new boss Ronald Koeman. And their performance also painted over the stain of the poor defeat to England on Friday, Koeman’s debut game as manager, and a result that threatened to colour his quest to pick up the pieces of a Dutch side that has failed to make the World Cup finals this June.
So the reboot seems to be on for the Oranje. And in more ways than just an attitude adjustment. Koeman also decided to switch up his formation to an unorthodox 5-3-2, which appeared to give them better stability. And the additional width provided by the wing-backs is what destroyed Portugal in a stunning first half rout that saw them three goals down by the break.
Matthijs de Ligt vs. Portugal
Facing Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, the 18 year old was solid defensively, assured in possession, and managed to pop up with two fantastic assists. Simply put, Matthijs de Ligt is the real deal. pic.twitter.com/0UXQM16OnB
— EiF Video (@EiF_Highlights) March 26, 2018
Depay opened the score in the 11th with the Portuguese defense caught ball-watching. Babel nodded in a powerful cross from the right by De Ligt. And Van Dijk tripled the lead with a well-placed volley in stoppage time.
Even with such a mountain to climb, however, as long as Cristiano Ronaldo is there, virtually anything’s possible. Ask Egypt. But last night was mostly notable for an embarrassing dive as he scuffed a shot, and later attempts to fend off pitch-invaders before being hooked for Moutinho. Once Joao Cancelo was sent off around the hour mark, it put paid to any hopes of a comeback.
Matthijs De Ligt is the real deal
Matthijs De Ligt made history last year when youngest ever captain of a professional side ever in Dutch football. He’s already the main cog in a young, exciting Ajax team. And he’s fast becoming one for his new manager in the national side. De Ligt’s stock is rising rapidly. And he is just 18.
📊 | Barça target De Ligt against Portugal today:
95.6 passing accuracy
2 key passes
— Stats (@centrestats) March 26, 2018
De Ligt may have just four caps for the Oranje thus far. But the youngster plays with the assuredness of one with years behind him. Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t even muster a single shot all game. And the Portuguese has scored 21 goals in his last 12 matches in all competitions. Of course De Ligt isn’t solely responsible for neutralising the Real Madrid star. But it goes to show how well he fits into Koeman’s backline.
And he’s not all defensive grit either. De Ligt picked up two assists as well on Monday night – drilling in the cross for Babel to turn in, and setting up the shot for Van Djik in stoppage time.
There was another hot 18-year old prospect on the pitch last night for the Oranje, though, in Justin Kluivert – the son of legend and former midfielder Patrick Kluivert. The winger didn’t have as much of an impact on the game as De Ligt. After all, he came on for the final 12 minutes or so unlike his Ajax teammate. But Kluivert did show flashes of what he can offer for the side. And of the technique and ability his father showed in the same colours. Koeman has plenty to work with in these two in his new-look Netherlands side.
🗓️ 16th of Nov 1994: Patrick Kluivert makes his Netherlands debut aged 18.
🗓️ 26th of Mar 2018: Justin Kluivert makes his Netherlands debut aged 18.
🇳🇱 They're the only Dutch father-son duo to make their debuts at 18 years of age. pic.twitter.com/uXzeA3aYFk
— Footy Jokes (@Footy_Jokes) March 27, 2018
”I still believe in these players…”
Portugal manager Fernando Santos conceded his side was a clear second-best on the night in his post-match reflections:
“They had four chances and scored three times, they deserved their victory.
“I could have done better, but the responsibility for defeat is mine. It was I who chose the players, had observed the opponent, set up the strategy so that we had possession of the ball and I think in the initial 10 minutes we had the ball and circulated well.”
On his side’s performance, the 63-year old said his team had trouble dealing with the opponents’ wide attacks, and couldn’t counter as they would have liked:
“We conceded a goal and from there, things got more complicated. They explored the side aisles well and had many difficulties in the first half. The overall behaviour was not adequate and we could not go on a counter-attack. We talked to the players at half-time and in the second half we were a different team in every respect.
0 – In the friendly vs The Netherlands, Cristiano Ronaldo hasn't completed a shot in a single game for the first time this season in all competitions between Real Madrid & Portugal. Formality pic.twitter.com/KPL75AfSZS
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 26, 2018
“We did not allow spaces to the opponent, except near the end. With 10 players on the pitch we had a bit more difficulties, but we kept trying to reach the goal and we had three or four chances. We deserved a goal or two.”
On his worries over this performance ahead of their opener in Sochi at the 2018 World Cup on June 15th:
“Two years ago, before the Euros, we lost at home against Bulgaria. I don’t think we have lost confidence, I still believe in these players for the future.”
Koeman upbeat after this thrilling bounce-back after Friday’s defeat
The former Everton boss didn’t have a particularly impressive opening as the new head coach of the Oranje last week. But Koeman should be well pleased with what he saw on Monday night, even if it were a shock result against a particularly under-par Portugal:
“We started our project last week. We decided to play with a system totally different from the one that the team has been using for a number of years.
Memphis and Babel terrorising the Portugal defence. Van de Beek and Propper very good in midfield. Vilhena great at left-back. Van Dijk and De Ligt dominating the defence. The Koeman Oranje!!
— Football-Oranje.com (@FootballOranje_) March 26, 2018
“The team made an excellent game and left few spaces between the lines. Portugal had many problems finding spaces. The difference between tonight and last Friday is that we were much more comfortable on the ball and scored first. That gave us a little bit of confidence.
“It felt good with the new system and results like tonight make things easier.”