The Netherlands and Wales managed to crush their opponents at the end of the opening matches of the group stage at the World Cup in Qatar. Louis van Gaal’s wards won thanks to accurate shots by Cody Gakpo and Davi Klassen. And the Welsh got away from defeat in the confrontation with the United States after Gareth Bale’s goal from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute. At the same time, as part of the Americans, an accurate blow in the first half was delivered by Timothy Weah, the son of the owner of the Golden Ball in 1995, George Weah.

Competent substitutions by van Gaal and a rare goal by Gakpo

In addition to England, on Monday another European team from among the favorites, the Netherlands, had to join the battle. Moreover, the match in Doha became special for them, because they have not played at the World Championships since 2014, since they did not qualify for the previous one, in Russia.

And in the first meeting within the framework of the tournament in 8.5 years, a very difficult opponent was waiting for them – the current African champion Senegal. It was assumed that Aliou Cisse’s wards would be able to rattle the favorites, but the injury of the main star Sadio Mane became a serious problem for them. At the core, he was forced to be replaced by Villarreal striker Boulaye Dia.

However, the “orange” did not do without losses. Their top scorer, Memphis Depay, also did not have time to recover from injury by the first round of the group stage, although he got into the squad. The same was true for Atalanta midfielder Martin de Rohn. In the absence of Depay, the experienced Louis van Gaal made a bet in the attack on the duo of Vincent Janssen and Steven Bergwijn.

The first half was reminiscent of a chess game in which one side or the other tried to seize the initiative. But the Africans still had a slight advantage. Realizing that it would not be easy to break through the saturated central zone, they were looking for freedom on the flanks. At first, the Senegalese staged an overload on the right edge, loosening the opponent’s defensive ranks, but then moved to the left, where the fast technical Ismaila Sarr caused serious problems for Matthijs de Ligt.

However, flank passages often ended in nothing. Dia did not closely resemble Manet, but was completely invisible. Virgil van Dijk let him hit the ball a countless number of times. It is not surprising that the Cisse team delivered almost all the blows from a long distance and they did not carry any danger.

The same can be said about the Dutch. They looked good in fast counter attacks when they got free space, but this happened infrequently. For example, in the opening, Bergwijn miraculously did not close his partner’s cross. In another episode, Frenkie de Jong, instead of hitting, tried to remove as many opponents as possible on the swings and lost the ball.

By the way, Bergwein and Janssen, like Dia, were almost invisible. The Orange had only to rely on set pieces, which were played by numerous high-profile players. After filing one of the corners, van Dijk even almost opened the scoring, but struck a little inaccurately.

In the second half, the Europeans finally took over the initiative. They controlled the ball in their own half most of the time. The fatigue of Sheik Kuyate and Nampali Mendy helped them. They no longer looked so confident in the support zone and often lost the fight. Much less often, the Senegalese organized their attacks, although Andris Noppert, who made his debut in the national team at the age of 28, made several saves and, on the whole, acted reliably.

To top it off, the African champions suffered a couple of serious losses. First, due to an injury, the main left-back Abdu Diallo had to be removed from the field, and then the most experienced Kuyate. The absence of the second was especially noticeable, because the veteran cemented the center of the field and was the link between the coaching staff and the players.

Van Gaal responded by increasing pressure on problem areas. Including appeared Depay. And then Davi Klassen and Tön Koopmeiners replaced Steven Berghuis and Bergwijn. And these castling in the end paid off. The main character suddenly became a young Cody Gakpo. After de Jong’s perfect serve, he unstuck from the defenders and outplayed Edouard Mendy, who recklessly jumped out of the line. Moreover, the tall Gakpo scored for only the second time in his career with a headbutt.

The shocked Senegalese had enough time to recoup, because the referee added eight minutes to the second half. But they failed to organize even a semblance of a final assault. And the Netherlands in the 99th minute put an end to it. This time the goal was organized by fresh performers. Depay dragged the ball to someone else’s penalty area and shot. Mendy unsuccessfully reflected the shot in front of him, and Klassen was the first to finish off – 2:0.

In addition to the goalscorers, van Dijk, who was recognized as the best player of the match, should be singled out among the winners. He threw two interceptions, three clearances, blocked one shot and won four aerial duels.

Successful debut of Weah and incredible rescue from Bale

If the Netherlands has not played in the World Cup since 2014, then Wales has not played at all since 1958. Then the Welsh for the first and last time made it to the final stage of the tournament. After 64 years, they managed to repeat this achievement. It remained to win the second victory in history in the World Cup. However, it was extremely difficult to achieve it in the confrontation with the United States, because the Americans brought a strong young team to the tournament with players notable by European standards: Sergino Dest, Weston McKenny and Christian Pulisic.

The British, on the other hand, had to rely on Gareth Bale. Although the striker has long crossed the 30-year mark, and in the summer he moved just to North America, to MLS, he remains the leader of the national team and, it seems, did not end his career just for the sake of a trip to the World Cup. In addition, Robert Page missed another experienced performer – midfielder Joe Allen. Due to damage, he remained in reserve.

In the absence of a key midfielder, the British slipped into a defensive game. They gave the ball to the opponent and retreated to the defense, relying on counterattacks. It worked at first. The Americans with great difficulty penetrated into someone else’s penalty area and more often tried to get inside through the flanks. For example, almost all the stars gathered on the right: Dest, Weston McKeney and Timothy Weah.

For the time being, the Welsh coped with the opponent’s attacks. Due to physical strength, they won most of the martial arts and did not allow Wayne Hennessy to bring the case to goal. I remember only Joshua Sargent’s shot at the post.

But in the 36th minute, the high level of individual skill of individual performers played its role. Pulisic played with a partner, dragged the ball forward and made a subtle pass to Weah’s turn. In turn, the forward left the defender and gently rolled the ball into the far. It is symbolic that the son of the 1995 Ballon d’Or winner George Weah became the author of the goal. The legendary striker defended the colors of his native Liberia and never made it to the world championship. But his 22-year-old offspring in the United States distinguished himself in the debut meeting.

Only after that, Wales tried to organize their own offensive, but never brought the matter even to a shot on target by Matt Turner. Even Bale turned out to be absolutely invisible, who was forced to lower himself behind the ball to the center line. For such a game, one could only hope for the standards.

To the credit of the Welsh, they did not give up and showed a completely different football after the break. They switched to a four-back formation and boldly went forward. Young Americans, under such pressure and fury, faltered and clung to their own penalty area.

Although the British attacked in a rather primitive way, regularly falling into the sheds in the direction of Bale and Kieffer Moore, this tactic worked. Corporate standards also helped. Actually, it was after their draw that the team missed the most obvious moments. First, Turner miraculously pulled the ball from under the crossbar after hitting a Ben Davis header in the fall, and then Moore hit a little higher.

Closer to the 70th minute, it seemed that the US team came to their senses and pushed the game closer to the center line. In addition, Gregg Berhalter made timely substitutions and refreshed the squad. The “stars and stripes” and “little football tricks” did not shun, dragging out time.

However, Bale had the last word in the match. The forward was not very noticeable, but in the end he saved the team with one competent action. He promptly covered the ball with his body, and Walker Zimmerman knocked him down in a tackle. The referee without hesitation pointed to the “point”. The victim himself sold a 22-meter shot, although Turner guessed the direction of the ball’s flight, and scored Wales’ first goal at the World Cup since 1958.


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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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