Rotterdam: The Netherlands had qualification for the Nations League semi-finals in their sights on Friday after they beat France 2-0 to hand Didier Deschamps’ side their first defeat since winning the World Cup in the summer.
Georginio Wijnaldum struck on the stroke of half-time and Memphis Depay chipped home a cheeky stoppage-time penalty to bag a win in Rotterdam for Ronald Koeman’s revitalised side that leaves the impressive Dutch needing just a point against relegated Germany on Monday to leapfrog France and make the semi-finals.
The Dutch are a point behind leaders France, who only needed a draw themselves on Friday to qualify for the knockout stage in their last match of the group.
Wijnaldum’s goal came practically at the midway point of a match dominated by the hosts, who had the better of the play and chances against the lacklustre world champions.
The closest Deschamps’ men came to scoring was a weak 10th-minute header from Antoine Griezmann, who was otherwise anonymous alongside the equally invisible Kylian Mbappe.
The Dutch meanwhile peppered Hugo Lloris’ goal from the off, with Wijnaldum forcing the France keeper’s first save with just a minute on the clock following an impressive burst from star turn Depay.
The match would have been done and dusted long before the final whistle had it not been for Tottenham stopper Lloris, who engaged in an almost personal battle with the Netherlands’ vibrant front three of Depay, Ryan Babel and Steven Bergwijn.
Depay was in particularly fine fettle, and the Lyon attacker was denied three times in the space of three second-half minutes by Lloris to stop the Dutch adding to their total.
First Lloris pushed away Depay’s stinging free-kick in the 73rd minute, then two minutes later the Spurs man saved his bamboozled defenders with two smart saves from the striker in a matter of seconds.
France finally creaked into action not long after, but offered little going forward, and with the match rolling into injury time Lloris once again saved his team’s blushes with a superb save from Frenkie De Jong’s long-range strike following a rapid breakaway.
Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic will, meanwhile, miss the winner-takes-all game against England at Wembley on Sunday due to injury, manager Zlatko Dalic said on Friday.
Barcelona’s Rakitic came off in the 67th minute of the 3-2 home win over Spain on Thursday which gave Croatia the chance to top League A Group 4 and claim a place in next year’s four-team finals.
“He will go to Barcelona, it’s a serious injury. You know that I usually take no risk. If there is a doubt that the injury could be serious, then we let him rest,” Dalic told Sky Sports.
“We want healthy players and Ivan in this moment is not 100 percent ready. Unfortunately, we are going to play without him.” Rakitic, 30, has played 102 games for Croatia but Dalic said they have players capable of filling in.
“We will see who will replace him. We have (Mateo) Kovacic, we have (Josip) Brekalo, we have (Milan) Badelj,” he added.
“There is always a solution and we should stop whining about someone who’s not going to be there. We will find a solution and we are going to Wembley to enjoy football.”
The winners of Sunday’s game will qualify for the Nations League semi-finals with the losers being relegated to League B. A draw would see leaders Spain clinch top spot in Group 4.