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Memphis Depay was at the double as the Netherlands thrashed Belgium 4-1 to start their UEFA Nations League campaign in style.
The Barcelona striker was in devastating form and was joined by Steven Bergwijn and Denzel Dumfries on the scoresheet as the Dutch ran out emphatic winners in the first competitive meeting between the nations since the 1998 World Cup.
Belgium started strongly and could have been ahead but for the crossbar as Timothy Castagne went agonisingly close – but the momentum shifted when Romelu Lukaku was forced off with injury, with the visitors taking control.
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Simon Mignolet came to Belgium’s rescue to repel Steven Berghuis. Chances kept coming amid a few jeers from the home supporters, but the Netherlands’ radar was slightly off with Danny Blind also curling just wide.
That was until Bergwijn found the space for a shot a few minutes before half-time. After controlling Frenkie De Jong’s pass, he unleashed a fierce drive into the bottom corner beyond Mignolet to break the deadlock.
Roberto Martinez handed Eden Hazard his first competitive start of any kind in five months and also gave the Real Madrid star the captain’s armband, but he was hooked off at half-time after a below-par performance.
The change failed to prompt an improvement in the initial stages of the second half as just five minutes later Depay doubled the Netherlands’ advantage with a right-footed shot.
Leandro Trossard had a great chance to halve the deficit moments before Dumfries got in on the act, tapping home from Blind’s cross, and the rout was complete thanks to another clinical finish from Depay, as the unhappy home support became increasingly vocal.
Belgium’s pain was compounded as Castagne had a goal chalked off for offside and Dries Mertens crashed another shot off the post, before Michy Batsuayi grabbed an injury-time consolation.
It was a huge win for the Netherlands in the opening game of what could be a very competitive group which also includes Poland and Wales.
TALKING POINT – Netherlands send out a statement
Ahead of the World Cup in just five months’ time, the Netherlands are looking in great shape, with Van Gaal extending his unbeaten run to 11 games and inflicting a damaging defeat on Belgium in the process. The 70-year-old has now won seven of his games in charge of Oranje since returning as head coach last summer, scoring in every one.
It was another tactical masterclass as his side completely outplayed and overwhelmed their opponents, the Dutch underlining their potential at the home of one of their greatest rivals. It is some turnaround from the weak side that crashed out of the European Championships at the hands of Czech Republic just 11 months ago.
But while their form bodes well for Qatar, there will be yet more questions for Belgium boss Martinez to answer. This winter is the very last chance for the ‘golden generation’ to make a statement, but in truth, the Red Devils currently look anything but contenders at the upcoming World Cup.
MAN OF THE MATCH – Memphis Depay (Netherlands)
The 28-year-old perfectly fits the Dutch system, and if he can carry his international form into the World Cup we could be looking at a surprise contender for the Golden Boot. He will undoubtedly get chances aplenty thanks to his clever movement and his explosive pace.
Belgium: Mignolet 5, Alderweireld 5, Boyata 4, Vertonghen 5, Meunier 5, Castagne 5, Witsel 4, De Bruyne 5, Vanaken 5, E. Hazard 4, Lukaku N/A.. subs: Carrasco 5, Mertens 6, Trossard 5, Onana 5, Batshuayi 6.
Netherlands: Cillessen 6, Ake 7, van Dijk 7, Timber 7, Blind 7, F de Jong 7, Klaassen 8, Dumfries 7, Berghuis 7, Depay 9*, Bergwijn 8.. subs: de Ligt N/A, Koopmeiners N/A.
40’ – GOAL! BELGIUM 0-1 NETHERLANDS (STEVEN BERGWIJN): An excellent goal to break the deadlock! He controls De Jong’s pass with his right foot to create the space and unleashes a fierce shot into the bottom corner.
51’ – GOAL! BELGIUM 0-2 NETHERLANDS (MEMPHIS DEPAY): That should do it! Depay’s run is untracked as he latches onto Klaassen’s through-ball and he makes no mistake with his right-footed shot.
61’ – GOAL! BELGIUM 0-3 NETHERLANDS (DENZEL DUMFRIES): The Netherlands are running away with this now! Berghuis forces a save from Mignolet, but he can only parry it and Blind is immediately on the loose ball. He crosses low for Dumfries, leaving him with a simple tap-in.
65′ – GOAL! BELGIUM 0-4 NETHERLANDS (MEMPHIS DEPAY): This is getting embarrassing for Belgium now! Excellent movement from Depay as he drifts away from Boyata to meet Blind’s knocked-down header and he slots home his second of the night.
90’+3 – GOAL! BELGIUM 1-4 NETHERLANDS (MICHY BATSHUAYI): No clean sheet for the Dutch as Batshuayi gets a late consolation, slotting home from close range from Alderweireld’s cross.
- Since Louis van Gaal’s return as Netherlands manager, only Memphis Depay scored or assisted more Oranje goals (15) than Steven Bergwijn (five goals, one assist).
- Belgium lost their first home game since September 2016, and conceded four goals at home for the first time since October 2010.
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