European Champions Netherlands salvaged a 1-1 draw with Korea DPR in their second Group A game at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Morelia. The Dutchmen will surely be disappointed with the result, after grabbing just one point from their first two matches, while the North Koreans put on an impressive second-half display.
Although each side entered the match in a must-win situation after dropping their first group-stage matches of the tournament, a cautious approach from the North Koreans and inability to execute offensively for the Oranje resulted in a rather lacklustre first half. Korea DPR settled for a counter-attack approach, while the Netherlands were constantly passing throughout their opponents’ defensive third. The Europeans were continually denied by the North Korean defence and Memphis Depay had two free-kick attempts denied. And while the Dutch were on the front foot for the majority of the first half, Terence Kongolo had to clean up an attack from So Jong Hyok that saw him break through two defenders.
The Netherlands ended the first period with more urgency, though, as Kyle Ebecilio received a great pass from centre-forward Anass Achahbar in the 44th minute. Ebecilio found himself free in the area, but his shot went just wide of the left post. Shortly after, Achahbar put on a tremendous display of individual skill only to fire over the crossbar.
In a surprising turn of events, the North Koreans came out firing after the restart, keen on having more possession of their own. In the 48th minute, Jong Chol struck a fine overhead ball from the flank, which Dutch defender Karim Rekik headed in front of his own area, putting the ball on a platter for Kang Nam Gwon to drive home a shot into the bottom-right corner. The Netherlands, desperately needing an equaliser, had an impressive chance in the North Korean area denied by goalkeeper An Kang Chol. Ebecillio had a point-blank effort blocked by the goalkeeper, after Achahbar and Danzell Gravenberch had done some fine work to develop the play.
Adding to their frustrations, Achahbar was pulled up for offside after nodding a free-kick into An Kang Chol’s net. The European Champions were unwilling to dampen their finals account with another loss, though, and were finally able to level the score through Gravenberch. The forward received a long-range pass out the back, did well to evade the rushing An Kang Chol with a touch to the right, and squeezed a difficult crosswise shot into side netting.
With victory essential for both the Netherlands and Korea DPR, they have challenging tests ahead as the Dutch face hosts Mexico on 24 June in Monterrey, while the North Koreans meet surprise packages Congo in Morelia.