Gambia left stunned by Dutch double (0:2)
In a thrilling climax to Group D at the FIFA U-17 World Championship, the Netherlands got the two-goal win they needed against Gambia to advance to the quarter-finals at the Africans' expense. Despite winning their opening two games, the Baby Scorpions found themselves out of the tournament after group rivals Brazil put six past Qatar in Trujillo to take top spot. In a pulsating finale, Gambia missed a penalty that would have seen them through at the expense of the Dutch, who now face the USA in the last eight.
"We are very happy and proud because we qualify in a very difficut group. Gambia played very nice football, they got six points and even like that they still go home. That says it all," said Netherlands coach Ruud Kaiser.
While hundreds of colourful Gambian supporters made their presence felt in the north stand of the National Stadium, it was the enterprising Dutch followers at the far end who stole the show by gifting Oranje shirts to the local kids in order to swell their support. Even before the whistle blew, battle lines had been drawn.
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When the game finally kicked off, the crowd in Lima were treated to a clash of styles. The more tactically astute Dutch tried to impose their passing game on a classic African side bristling with technique, physical prowess and determination. The early play would have yielded a goal apiece were it not for the woodwork. The first effort came from a shot by Ousman Jallow after a poor clearance by the Oranje keeper Krul, while the second fell to the diminutive Dutch striker Melvin Zaalman, who neatly lobbed the ball over Babucarr Suso only to see the ball come back off the woodwork with the crowd already on their feet.
Midway through the first half, the news began to filter through from Trujillo: Brazil were winning their duel against Qatar meaning in all probability that the two teams in Lima would have to battle it out for the last remaining spot. Shortly afterwards, the Netherlands went ahead. Melvin Zaalman broke down the right and angled a low cross in to the path of John Goossens, who had the simplest of tasks to steer his shot home (0:1, 33').
Gambian fans raise the temperature
After the break, with the African drumbeat growing louder from the Gambian supporters, the stakes were raised once more. Brazil were piling on the goals in Trujillo, meaning the Dutch needed a second goal to go through, and Gambia could not afford to concede another. The first clear-cut chance of the half fell to the Baby Scorpions, but Jallow was unable to capitalise on a sortie by Saines Nyassi. Ruud Kaiser's men hit straight back but also missed the target after Diego Biseswar narrowly failed to get his leg to cross at the far post.
Aware of what was happening in Trujillo, the Dutch coach sent Marvin Emnes to bolster the attack. His side then came close to extending their lead, but Vurnon Anita's right-foot effort was well covered by Suso. With the minutes ticking away, the Dutch pushed on looking for the all-important second. Gambia, in contrast, decided to shut up shop and wait for their chance on the break. It turned out to be a fatal mistake. Goossens picked out Dirk Marcellis with a measured cross from the right and the PSV defender made no mistake with his header (0:2, 72').
Suddenly, with just over a quarter of an hour to go, a side many people fancied for a place on the podium were staring elimination in the face. There was still time for once final piece of drama. Jallow went down in the area, and Gambia were given a penalty and a lifeline. Ceesay stepped up to take the kick but in spite of hugs from his team-mates beforehand, contrived to fire it wide.
"I don't know why he took the penalty. My decision was our captain Jallow, but for some reason they changed it on the pitch. That's football I guess, but it doesn't make any sense to be sorry about it now," said Gambia coach Fred Osam Duodu.
And that was it. There was delight and despair in equal measures when the final whistle sounded. The shell-shocked Gambians were applauded off by the Peruvian public who have been won over by the colour and warmth of their African visitors. The loudest cheer, however, was reserved for the Dutch, who, mission accomplished, marched off to the quarter-finals.
"Our people must be proud because of the way we played in our first time in a World Cup. They shouldn't feel sad about this," Duodu added.