Memphis Depay came off the substitutes’ bench to score a crucial double as Netherlands survived a major scare in 2018 World Cup qualifying to win 3-1 in Luxembourg.
Arjen Robben put the visitors ahead a year to the day since his last Netherlands appearance, when he scored twice in a 3-2 friendly victory over Wales.
Luxembourg grabbed a shock equaliser just before half-time, though, with Joshua Brenet conceding a penalty on his first Oranje start to allow Maxime Chanot to slot home from the spot.
But half-time substitute Depay – yet to start for Manchester United in the Premier League this season, but drawing the interest of Everton boss Ronald Koeman – scored an excellent header and sealed victory with an impressive late free-kick to spare head coach Danny Blind’s blushes.
The victory moves Netherlands up to second in Group A, above Sweden on goal difference and three points behind leaders France. Luxembourg remain bottom on one point.
Robben and Georginio Wijnaldum both forced Ralph Schon into early saves with left-footed efforts, while a powerful strike from David Turpel forced Maarten Stekelenburg into action for the first time at the other end.
Netherlands should have taken the lead when Davy Klaassen received a clever pass from Robben and saw his initial effort saved, before he failed to direct his follow-up header under the bar from close-range. But the visitors did make the breakthrough after 36 minutes as Wijnaldum found Klaassen, who in turn slipped through a pass to Robben to calmly finish into the far corner.
Luxembourg fought back, though, with Brenet bundling Daniel da Mota to ground after the attacker had shown impressive pace down the left to burst into the penalty area.
Chanot then sent Stekelenburg the wrong way from the resulting spot-kick one minute before the break, ensuring Netherlands failed to keep a clean sheet for the eighth straight competitive game under Blind.
The Netherlands coach sent on Steven Berghuis and Depay for Robben and Wesley Sneijder at half-time, with Schon having to save well from Klaassen’s header soon after the restart.
However, Netherlands did succeed with a headed effort in the 58th minute, Depay making a prompt impression with a powerful connection on United team-mate Daley Blind’s left-wing cross to beat Schon. Depay fired over from an opportunity to add to his tally, while fellow sub Berghuis forced the home keeper to tip away his late effort.
An improved Dutch performance after the restart ensured they were given no late scares from the hosts – who struggled in the second half – and Depay struck again six minutes from time to secure the points. After Virgil van Dijk was fouled by Chanot, Depay stepped up and found the bottom corner with a dipping free-kick from 25 yards.
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