The goal that distinguished the Dutch on Monday came late, against the run of play and after several missed chances. But it granted them victory nonetheless against a stubborn Senegalese side that demonstrated, even without the forward Sadio Mane, the quality to emerge from a rugged Group A.
The Netherlands leads that group after escaping Al Thumama Stadium as 2-0 winners over Senegal, going ahead in the 84th minute on a slick header by the ascending star Cody Gakpo, who timed his run across the box perfectly to glance a pass from Frenkie de Jong into the net.
In the final seconds of injury time, in the 99th minute, Davy Klaassen assured that the Dutch would stay atop Group A with Ecuador, which defeated Qatar on Sunday, by pouncing on a rebound.
An exciting, eventful first half, loaded with Dutch opportunities, gave way to a torpid stretch after halftime that, until Gakpo’s goal, had tilted toward Senegal. Andries Noppert, the Dutch goalkeeper making his national team debut, turned aside a Boulaye Dia shot from the box and, in the 73rd, deflected a wicked strike from Idrissa Gana Gueye to keep the game scoreless.
Memphis Depay, hampered by a balky hamstring, subbed in for Vincent Janssen, giving the Netherlands more quality up front as they pressed for a goal. But the Dutch attack fizzled, turned back by a stout Senegalese backline, since Virgil van Dijk sent a clear header sailing above the crossbar in the 53rd.
In the first 45 minutes, there was lots and lots of adventure (and orange) in the Senegal end, where persistent probing from the Dutch generated several scoring chances, if not an actual shot on goal. Their width was imposing, and penetrating.
The best chance, though, came from the Senegalese forward Ismaila Sarr, who, in the absence of Mane, is supplying attacking prowess. Sarr whipped a curling right-footed shot that, if not for the head of van Dijk, seemed headed for the corner.