Netherlands U21 5 – 1 Russia U21: Semis sorted, but it’s not clicking yet

A convincing scoreline overshadowed an otherwise underwhelming performance by the Dutch U21 national side. A spark of class by Wijnaldum, a harsh red card followed by some clinical finishing resulted in a 5-1 result, but manager Cor Pot will have plenty on his hands looking at further challenges in the tournament, with a ‘first place group decider’ against Spain coming up and a semi finals against Italy or Norway (although Israel have an outside chance of qualifying ahead of the Norwegians too).

Cor Pot opted to start with the same eleven that had brought him victory against Germany earlier, meaning Jordy Clasie was again benched in favour of Marco van Ginkel. The latter is a very gifted footballer, but the lack of a  defensive midfielder did give the Russians some space to threat. Whereas the Spanish didn’t have to deal with senior international Alan Dzagoev, the talented Russian midfielder was now a starter and posed quite some danger to the Dutch. Furthermore, the Russians pressed upon the defense, leaving central defenders Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi quite uncomfortable. However, the beginning of the game was rather dull and both teams struggled to really get in goalscoring positions. After half an hour, both still couldn’t entertain and the rather empty ‘Teddy Stadium’ in Jeruzalem wasn’t the most exciting place to be to say the least.

But in the 39th minute, a moment of class by PSV winger/attacking midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum opened the game up. The 22 year old, who already has 176 league appearances to his name, but is struggling to really fulfill the world class potential people thought he had, cut inside from the right, left free by the Russian defenders. He decided to shoot from 20 metres out and as the ball got a touch from the defender, it caught the goalkeeper off guard. If any of the two teams deserved to score, this was probably the right one. However underwhelming the Dutch were, they were dominating possession and Russia hardly created a chance.

Wijnaldum and De Vrij celebrate.

Wijnaldum and De Vrij celebrate.

After the break, the game was defined by two moments. First, a handball in the penalty area by Stefan de Vrij was overlooked. A couple of minutes later, in the 49th minute, a tackle by Nikita Chicherin on Adam Maher was harshly punished with a red card. All of a sudden, the Dutch team were cruising, leading 1-0 and playing with eleven against ten. First, Maher gave off a warning, volleying a cross from the right against the bar. A few minutes later, the inevitable 2-0 came. Van Ginkel, who is rumoured to be on his way to Chelsea, picked out striker Luuk de Jong with a marvellous cross and the Borussia Mönchengladbach striker made no mistake, heading in the ball diagonally from close range.

Just as the game appeared over, a slip by Bruno Martins Indi gave the Russians a way back into the game. Dzagoev saw a header strike the post and Real Madrid talent Denis Cheryshev scored the rebound. After the earlier comeback by the Germans (2-0 to 2-2), the Dutch appeared shaky all of a sudden. A quick transitional moment from goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet brought the Dutch in safe haven though. A long kick was delayed by De Jong and left Benfica winger Ola John with a one-on-one. The Liberian-born player made no mistake and chipped the Russian goalie Zabolotny. The 3-1 broke resistance and in the end, a 5-1 score was comfortably reached through substitutions Danny Hoesen (Ajax) and Leroy Fer (FC Twente). After the 3-2 win over Germany earlier on Thursday, this assured the Dutch of six points from two games. With Spain beating Germany 1-0, both sides are already certain of a place in the semi-finals.

The Spain game will be a test though. The range of goalscorers (6 in two games) is telling of the broadness of talent available for the Dutch, but they  haven’t impressed in a manner their squad suggests it’s capable of. Manager Cor Pot was critical yet satisfied after the 5-1 win. ‘After the 2-0, we went back with 10 men and defended zonally, even though the players should have man-marked. The 2-1 gave them (The Russians) hope. Luckily, Ola John quickly scored the 3-1.’ Overall, Pot felt the victory was deserved. ‘We did fine. I believe we had around 70 per cent possession and when we played with eleven versus eleven we were by far the dominant side.’

The third and last group game will be played on Wednesday 12 June, at 1800 CET.

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