No Coach, No Crowd, No Problem: Netherlands Redeem Team Clinches World Cup Spot

There was every reason for Dutch stress on Tuesday evening: The ghost of the failed 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign; Saturday’s calamitous draw with 73rd-ranked Montenegro despite leading 2-0 with less than 10 minutes to play; Louis van Gaal’s bike accident on Sunday and fractured hip, forcing him to watch this key clash against Norway from a wheelchair in a box seat; an empty De Kuip in Rotterdam after the country entered a three-week lockdown period with Covid-19 cases soaring.   

The only saving grace for the Netherlands — and it was a massive one — was the continued absence of Norwegian man-mountain Erling Haaland due to a torn hip flexor. 

The Dutch started well, taking 70% possession in the opening 30 minutes with Memphis Depay forcing a couple easy saves from Ørjan Nyland and Arnaut Danjuma curling one wide of the far post.

It looked pretty hopeless for Norway in the opening 45, which really only contributed to proceedings with a couple hacks that earned Alexander Sørloth and Morten Thorsby bookings. 

But as we entered the final 10 minutes of the match with the score level at 0-0, the reality remained that a Norway goal — coupled with Turkey’s victory over Montenegro — would send the Netherlands tumbling from first to third and out of the World Cup again. 

There were moments of danger when Norway found itself on the break with the ball at Martin Ødegaard’s feet — the cameras showing Van Gaal furiously scribbling in his notebook and radioing assistants Danny Blind and Henk Fraser on the touchline — but the enormous anxiety was finally dispelled in the 84th-minute with a thunderbastard from Steven Bergwijn. 

Facing certain elimination, Norway poured numbers forward looking for a miracle, but that only led to break going the other way with Memphis making it 2-0 in stoppage time.  

Horns and fireworks could be heard from outside the stadium while Virgil van Dijk led the celebrations inside.  

The Oranje are back and it feels so right, but a World Cup without Haaland — easily one of the most dynamic and exciting footballers to watch on the planet right now — is regrettable. 

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