Late Virgil van Dijk strike over rivals Germany fires Netherlands into Nations League semifinals
GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Virgil van Dijk equalized in the 91st-minute to send the Netherlands into the Nations League semifinals, at the expense of France, after sealing a dramatic 2-2 draw away to Germany on Monday.
The Dutch advance at the expense of world champions France after scoring twice in the final six minutes in Gelsenkirchen as Germany were punished for but not being clinical enough in the second half.
Liverpool defender Van Dijk fired home to complete the Dutch fight back after Quincy Promes scored their first goal on 85 minutes to cancel out Timo Werner and Leroy Sane’s first-half goals for Germany.
The point in Gelsenkirchen was enough to send the Dutch into the Nations League semis as Group One winners, with world champions France second, while bottom side Germany were already relegated to the ‘B’ league.
Ronaldo Koeman’s side showed plenty of heart against the Germans, who had been 2-0 up after just 20 minutes.
Thomas Mueller, a second-half replacement, reached the milestone of 100 Germany appearances, but Van Dijk dampened any celebrations for the hosts.
Having described 2018 as a ‘slap in the face’ — after a record six defeats in a calender year — Germany showed the ‘killer instinct’ head coach Joachim Loew had called for after their World Cup debacle — but only in the first half.
The trio of Serge Gnabry, Sane and Werner, so effective in Thursday’s 3-0 friendly win over Russia, caused the Dutch defense no end of problems in the opening 45 minutes.
Having started the rebuilding process in the wake of Germany’s woeful World Cup display, crashing out after the group stages, Loew started with only three Brazil 2014 winners in Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Toni Kroos.
Dutch coach Ronald Koeman made two changes from Friday’s 2-0 win over France with Kenny Tete taking over from Denzel Dumfries at right back and Promes on the right wing for Steven Bergwijn.
Germany needed just nine minutes to land the first blow in the clash of the European heavyweights.
There was little on when Gnabry’s pass found Werner on the edge of the area, but the 22-year-old showed ice-cold finishing by hitting the bottom corner of the net past Jasper Cillessen.
Werner ended his barren run of eight internationals without a goal and Sane added the second, with the help of a deflection, 11 minutes later to floor the Dutch.
Again, there was little on when Toni Kroos floated in a long pass to Sane, who stumbled slightly, but managed to win the ball and fired home a superb shot, which clipped the boot of a defender, as it sailed past Cillessen.
A hamstring injury to Ryan Babbel forced Koeman to reshuffle his attack with Javairo Dilrosun coming on just before the half-time whistle.
Werner fired wide after getting in behind the defense, but from that point on the Dutch began to take charge.
Werner made way for Germany’s chief playmaker Marco Reus with 27 minutes left as Loew also introduced the experienced Mueller, but it was not enough to defend the lead.
The Dutch scored from their first real attack when Promes curled his shot home on 85 minutes after sustained pressure from the hosts.
The scene was set for Van Dijk to complete the fairytale comeback when he produced a thumping finish to delight traveling fans just before the final whistle.