DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Louis van Gaal’s gambles at both ends of the field paid off for the Netherlands. Up front, Memphis Depay returned from injury as a second-half substitute to help spark the attack into life as the Netherlands scored two late goals to beat Senegal 2-0 Monday at the World Cup.
At the back, Netherlands goalkeeper Andries Noppert pulled off three key saves to keep the African champions at bay after Van Gaal decided to give him his international debut in a key World Cup game and just two months after he was called into the national squad for the first time.
“His quality is he can stop balls and he did that three times today,” the Netherlands coach said, “and he did it perfectly.”
Cody Gakpo and substitute Davy Klaasen provided the late goals to ensure the Dutch team’s winning start at its first World Cup appearance since 2014, when Van Gaal was also coach.
Gakpo rose to glance a header in from a cross by Frenkie de Jong in the 84th minute with the team’s first effort on target. Klaasen added a second right at the end of eight minutes of stoppage time by slotting in after Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy only weakly blocked a shot from Depay.
The orange-shirted Dutch fans had been subdued until the late strikes as Senegal was the more energetic team. The Senegalese drums and chants were the dominant sound from the stands for much of the game.
But Senegal’s main problem was predictable: Without injured forward Sadio Mane, it couldn’t convert any of its chances.
“I think we gave everything and I think we deserved at least a point from this game,” Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said. “But, of course, Sadio being missing is a problem for us.”
Depay, who has only just recovered from a hamstring injury, was put on by Van Gaal with about 30 minutes to go after the veteran coach said the day before that he wasn’t sure if the Barcelona forward was ready for action.
He decided to see if he was and Depay responded by playing parts in both goals.
First, he linked up with De Jong near the edge of the area before the midfielder crossed to Gakpo for the first goal. Depay’s run and shot deep in injury time led to the second goal for Klaasen – one of four substitutes in the match. It sealed a Dutch victory and a 16th game unbeaten for the Netherlands since the 71-year-old Van Gaal, the oldest coach at the World Cup, returned from retirement last year to lead his country for a third time.
The substitutions provided “the breakthrough,” Van Gaal said. “Memphis was a big part of that.”