Northern Ireland 0-0 Netherlands: Dutch delight as Koeman's Oranje qualify

By Sports Desk November 16, 2019

Ronald Koeman could celebrate a mission accomplished as Netherlands clinched their place at the Euro 2020 finals with a 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland.

Coach Koeman and an emerging band of exciting young players have lifted the Dutch out of the doldrums, after failing to qualify for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Their lone European Championship triumph came in 1988, when a team featuring Koeman at centre-back and the likes of Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten further forward brought home the trophy from West Germany.

But Netherlands will head into next year's tournament as a rejuvenated side in with a shout of success, albeit they must produce more persuasive cutting edge than the Windsor Park crowd witnessed on Saturday.

There might have been a Group C upset too, but Steven Davis fired over a first-half penalty for Northern Ireland.

This was a game unlikely to live long in the memory. Josh Magennis went close with an early header for the hosts, before the ball looped up off Steven Berghuis at the other end and hit the Northern Ireland bar.

Ryan Babel was lively for Netherlands but lacked a precise finish, which was what Northern Ireland needed on the half-hour after being awarded a controversial penalty.

Paddy McNair's cross from the right was perfect for George Saville, whose volley struck the arm of Joel Veltman and trundled against the right post.

Despite Dutch protests that Veltman had no chance to get his arms out of the way, the spot-kick was confirmed but Davis hacked the ball a yard over the crossbar.

Netherlands were lacking control and made an apparent tactical substitution before the break, with Davy Propper replacing Marten de Roon, who was booked early on, in midfield.

Magennis squandered another decent chance with his head early in the second half, and news of Germany winning against Belarus meant a draw would not be enough to sustain Northern Ireland's hopes of qualifying directly through to the group stage.

It meant the side led by Michael O'Neill, who will soon give up his Northern Ireland role after last week becoming Stoke City's new manager, needed to go all out for victory.

The Dutch looked the more likely though, Babel having a header saved low down by Bailey Peacock-Farrell before Luuk de Jong came on for Berghuis. The breakthrough continued to elude both sides, with the draw a fair outcome.

What does it mean? Top two settled in Group C

Netherlands are going to the Euros, and Northern Ireland must take the play-off route if they wish to qualify. That fall-back was always likely to be their realistic target after being drawn in the same group as Germany and Koeman's side.

A striking difference

The Dutch team that ruled Europe in 1988 packed a serious punch up front, with Van Basten and Gullit an irrepressible combination. This is not a vintage era for Dutch forwards, however, and the selection of Ryan Babel to lead the line in Belfast exemplified that shortcoming in an otherwise blossoming team. The journeyman turns 33 next month and averages a goal every six games for his country. There must surely be a better alternative to be groomed for a leading role next year.

Davis misses his cue

Davis has been Northern Ireland's Mr Reliable for years, and this was his 116th appearance - beating David Beckham's mark for England to become the UK's most-capped midfielder. But the 34-year-old miscued from the penalty spot at a critical moment, his composure lacking as he cleared the bar.

What's next?

Netherlands and Northern Ireland wrap up the qualifying campaign on Tuesday. Koeman's team host Estonia in Amsterdam and Northern Ireland head to take on Germany in Frankfurt.

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