Cody Gakpo on target again as Netherlands stroll past Qatar to top Group A

Tournament hosts Qatar exit the tournament with zero points and one goal

The Netherlands are into the last 16 as Group A winners. This was a canter of a win that had a Cody Gakpo strike making him the tournament’s joint-top goalscorer, with three alongside Kylian Mbappé and Enner Valencia, plus a goal for Frenkie de Jong, who had been under the weather in the build-up.

So while Qatar bow out of their World Cup with a single goal and zero points, the Netherlands can begin to dream a little. What a romantic story a first triumph for the Oranje under Louis van Gaal would be: to see the 71-year-old comeback from prostate cancer to guide his nation to global glory would be straight from the top drawer of tear-inducing scripts.

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

If the contest was a technical mismatch by a few classes Van Gaal’s men were ponderous in possession, reviving memories of how he drilled his Manchester United of 2014-16 to be a laborious, sideways-first side. A lack of thrust is fine when protecting a lead late on and keep-ball is the aim but no penetration when level gives up the initiative and thus Qatar grew in belief.


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

The three-times losing finalists leading Qatar was hardly news yet there were fleeting moments of promise from Félix Sánchez’s men, one of which had Abdelkarim Hassan breaking along the left and sweeping over a ball that Virgil van Dijk, once more, needed to clear. But the play illuminated a Qatar fault line: the inability of those in white to break in numbers meaning Hassan had no one to aim for and so hoofed over in hope only.

A soporific half closed with a Depay effort and the teams wandering off with, surely, only one possible victor. Yet in this endeavour Akram Afif kept Netherlands – and Nathan Aké – honest by dropping a free-kick in front of Andries Noppert that the Manchester City defender needed to clear with his forehead.

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

For the closing phase Van Gaal could remove Klaassen and Depay for Vincent Janssen and Steven Berghuis respectively. The coach went close to enjoying an instant dividend when the two men combined but Berghuis’s finish was chalked off, via the VAR, for a Gakpo handball earlier in the move. Dumfries also went near to a third but Barsham was able to tip his near-range attempt around his left post.

Netherlands, then, coast through. They can, and will have to, perform better to continue on to the final. – Guardian