- Museum Square gets a familiar coat
- A piece of paper helped the Oranje prosper
- Van Dijk, Wijnaldum, De Jong and Depay have thrived
The monochromatically orange Museumplein had been painted blue. The French community in Amsterdam had come out en force to celebrate their Muscovite jour de gloire in the square synonymous with Dutch football parties.
The Netherlands had not even made it to Russia. It sequenced the South Africa 2010 runners-up and exhilarating bronze collectors at Brazil 2014 coming fourth in a ruinous UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying campaign. Now, they were without the talismanic Arjen Robben. Wesley Sneijder would soon follow him into international retirement.
The Netherlands were submerged in a national nadir. And there seemed no sniff of resurfacing when the groups were drawn for the UEFA Nations League. The Dutch had snuck into League A, as the 12th and last seed. Their payback was being placed on the chopping block of the last two FIFA World Cup™ winners. Uh-oh.
“There was no discussion about it – [everybody assumed] we were finishing third,” said Ronald Koeman, who assumed the Dutch coaching reins in February. “It was France against Germany.”
Yet, the Oranje have unequivocally shaken the blues. They beat fierce enemies Germany for the first time since 2002, 3-0 in October. They abolished a run of five consecutive defeats by France, including 4-0 last year, by muzzling Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann in a one-sided 2-0 win last Friday. And deep into Monday night, late goals from Quincy Promes and Virgil van Dijk snatched a 2-2 draw in Gelsenkirchen against the already-relegated Germans and snatch a place in the Nations League finals.
The Dutch pipping Les Bleus to top spot in Group A was something of a chef-d'oeuvre from Koeman and his co-plotters. 2-0 down with little time remaining, they elected to shuttle van Dijk to alien territory.
"I got that note from Dwight Lodeweges and Kees van Wonderen,” explained Koeman. “When we were 2-0 down, they asked me if we should change things around and I said yes.
“Next thing I knew, I had the note. So I gave it to Kenny [Tete]. And in the end, it's fantastic that the equaliser came from the guy who was told on the note to push up front."
Van Dijk enthused: "It's a fantastic feeling. We should all be proud of ourselves. I know I am. We worked so hard every game and to get rewards for that is fantastic.”
The Netherlands have now lost just one of their last nine matches under Koeman, a sequence that includes a 3-0 downing of a Cristiano Ronaldo-spearheaded Portugal and the near extinction of a 21-year winless run against Belgium in an admirable draw in Brussels. And the 55-year-old has got his pupils performing at their pomp.
Van Dijk is not only the most expensive defender in the world, but also the best according to a mushrooming posse, including Andy Gray, Eden Hazard, Jamie Redknapp, Mo Salah and Chris Sutton. Matthijs de Ligt, 19, has hinted that the Netherlands could have the best centre-back partnership in the world by the time qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ begins.
Frenkie de Jong, 21, continues to prompt juxtaposition with Xavi. Gini Wijnaldum has been infallible. And Memphis Depay, who makes no secret of his belief he can one day be crowned The Best FIFA Men’s Player, has remarkably recorded 41 goals or assists in 53 appearances for club and country in 2018.
The future’s bright, the future’s orange. So, too, was Museumplein once again on Monday night.