Netherlands got their World Cup campaign off to a winning start in Group A, although they made very hard work of it against Senegal in a late 2-0 victory.
In a game of precious little quality, Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen provided late goals, although both owed plenty to some very poor goalkeeping from Edouard Mendy.
It was Gakpo who created the first meaningful opportunity of the match on the quarter-hour. The PSV man stood the ball up for Daley Blind at the back post, but he could only head wide when he should have done better.
Frenkie de Jong had an even better chance just a couple of minutes later when a fluent Dutch counter-attack left him one-on-one with Mendy, but he failed to even get a shot away.
Despite the Dutch dominance in the first half, Senegal still carried a serious threat through their individual talent, and Ismaila Sarr forced Virgil van Dijk into a block after some smart footwork.
The opening 45 minutes fell into that pattern of Netherlands controlling and creating the better chances, but Senegal still threatening in flashes, and more was expected after the break.
Van Dijk headed an early second half chance over the bar, and Boulaye Dia tested Andreis Noppert in the Netherlands goal on the hour, but the second half descended into a low-quality affair played at a pedestrian pace.
It looked for all the world, in fact, that the contest was going to just fade away into a dull and dour goalless draw, but Eredivisie top scorer Gakpo had other ideas. De Jong swung in a sumptuous in-swinging cross and Gakpo got there ahead of the flapping Mendy to head home the opener.
From there it was just a case of seeing it out for Netherlands seeing it out. That wasn’t too difficult, although there was a nervy moment when Bamba Dieng found himself with a free header six yards out. However, he got himself caught underneath the ball and headed well over the bar.
All that remained was for Dutch substitute Klaassen to accept a gift of a second from Mendy, who parried a shot that looked like it was going wide straight into his path in injury time.
While it was a winning start for Netherlands, it certainly wasn’t a very inspiring one.
GK: Edouard Mendy – 4/10 – Much closer to the solid end of the scale than the spectacular – until he got all flappy for the Netherlands’ winner. He did even worse on the second.
RB: Youssouf Sabaly – 6/10 – Did okay but didn’t stamp any authority on the game.
CB: Kalidou Koulibaly – 6/10 – Unremarkable, but in a good ‘didn’t do anything obviously silly, Koulibaly’ kind of a way.
CB: Pape Abou Cisse 6/10 – Caught out positionally once or twice, but nothing major.
LB: Abdou Diallo – 6/10 – Netherlands livewire Cody Gakpo did most of his work down Diallo’s side, but he stuck to his task.
CM: Idrissa Gueye – 6/10 – Wasteful on a couple of very promising set pieces but did his defensive work well.
CM: Nampalys Mendy – 6/10 – More energetic than effective.
CM: Cheikhou Kouyate – 6/10 – Game passed him down to a large extent.
RF: Krepin Diatta – 5/10 – The least inspiring of a forward line badly missing Sadio Mane.
CF: Boulaye Dia – 6/10 – Threatened on occasion, but generally dominated by Van Dijk.
LF: Ismaila Sarr – 7/10 – Always looked like the main threat for Senegal. The only threat, in fact.
SUB: Ismael Jakobs (62′ for Diallo) – 5/10 – Struggled to make any kind of an impact
SUB: Bamba Dieng (69′ for Dia) – 5/10 – Didn’t make things better, but didn’t make things any worse either.
SUB: Pape Guaye (74′ for Kouyate) – N/A
SUB: Nicolas Jackson – (74′ for Diatta) – N/A
Manager: Aliou Cisse – 6/10 – Set up his side well and was unlucky to not get a good point from it.
GK: Andries Noppert – 7/10 – Comfortable enough on the rare occasions when he was tested on his debut.
CB: Matthijs De Ligt – 5/10 – Struggled at times against Sarr in the first half.
CB: Virgil Van Dijk – 6/10 – Solid in defence and a set-piece threat at the other end, although perhaps should have scored.
CB: Nathan Ake – 5/10 – Nothing special, nothing scary.
RM: Denzel Dumfries – 5/10 – A willing runner but, in keeping with the rest of the match, very little quality.
CM: Steven Berghuis – 5/10 – Offered some nice balance in the centre of midfield, but precious little incision.
CM: Frenkie de Jong – 7/10 – Wasted a glorious chance in the first half which could have really opened the the game up, but made up for it with a beautiful assist for Gapko’s winner.
LM: Daley Blind – 6/10 – Another guilty of missing an early chance before they dried up almost entirely.
AM: Cody Gakpo – 8/10 – A bright spark for the Netherlands in a poor spectacle. No surprise he found the breakthrough.
CF: Vincent Janssen – 6/10 – Worked his socks off but didn’t really achieve anything.
CF: Steven Bergwijn – 6/10 – Flashes of quality but not enough to influence the game.
SUB: Memphis Depay (62′ for Janssen) – 6/10 – Gave the Senegalese defence something extra to think about.
SUB: Davy Klaassen (79′ for Bergwijn) – 6/10 – Given a gift of a late goal by Mendy.
SUB: Teun Koopmeiners (79′ for Berghuis) – N/A
SUB: Marten de Roon (90′ for Gakpo) – N/A
Manager – Louis van Gaal 6/10 – The Netherlands don’t always have to be good, but they should never really be this boring, despite the win.