Captain Virgil van Dijk called it “scandalous”, Memphis Depay “super dumb” and coach Louis van Gaal “inexplicable” as the Netherlands blew a two-goal lead in Montenegro on Saturday, and with it its chance to qualify early for the World Cup finals in Qatar.
The Dutch are still top of their group after the 2-2 draw with Montenegro and have a home match against Norway in Rotterdam on Tuesday. But they were furious after letting slip the chance to secure their place with a game to spare.
A goalless draw between Norway and Latvia in Oslo earlier on Saturday handed the Dutch an unexpected chance to win the group, and they were coasting towards Qatar with a 2-0 lead after a double from top-scorer Memphis Depay.
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But goals from Ilija Vukotic in the 82nd minute and Nikola Vujnovic four minutes later snatched away the punch bowl as the Dutch suffered a dramatic collapse.
Van Gaal said he had to take some blame for his late substitutions, aimed at resting some players who had picked up knocks.
“The changes were not good but I cannot really explain what happened,” he said.
“This leaves a bad aftertaste but I’m not going to criticise my players. They also really want to go to the World Cup. We still have to play against Norway and we have to prepare positively for that. We still have a chance. We are still in the best position,” the veteran coach added.
“I’m speechless and angry. It was scandalous the way we played in the second half. We all want to have the ball, play football, attack and score. But sometimes you also have to think defensively too,” added skipper Van Dijk in a post-match television interview.
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“Our organisation was not good. We should have kept control and not all run forward. We did. If it has to be ugly, then it has to be ugly. We also said that to each other beforehand.”
Depay was equally candid in his analysis with Dutch NOS television.
“This is a hard blow. We sold ourselves short, the fans who have travelled with us and the fans at home. We had it in our own hands and we gave it away completely. That is super dumb. This was simply childish. We know it wasn’t a good game, but if you’re two goals up, you have to take it home.”
The Dutch will play their last qualifier on Tuesday in an empty De Kuip stadium after the government said it was banning spectators at sports events for the next three weeks to fight a new surge in COVID-19 cases.