Netherlands have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2002 after an Arjen Robben-inspired 2-0 win over Sweden left them trailing the visitors on goal difference in Group A.
Dick Advocaat’s men went into the match knowing they needed to score at least seven goals and win by six to secure a top-two spot, and although Robben’s fine performance saw them claim a comfortable win, they were far too profligate to get near their target.
Netherlands certainly could not be accused of starting the game with a lack of intent, as Robben opened the scoring with a confident penalty, before several other chances fell their way.
They were mostly wasteful, but Robben – by far the best player on the pitch – showed his class with a stunning second just before the break to at least provide a little extra belief.
37 – Arjen Robben is now tied with Dennis Bergkamp as the fourth top goalscorer for the Netherlands (37 goals). Update. https://t.co/OUx3b8eSho
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) October 10, 2017
Sweden’s reluctance to offer anything in the attacking third only increased after the interval and subsequently impacted the home side’s chance creation, as the visitors became tighter at the back.
As such, Netherlands struggled to create clear-cut chances and things petered out, allowing Sweden to celebrate securing a play-off spot behind France, who beat Belarus 2-1 in Paris.
After an elaborate welcome to the pitch involving smoke machines, a stadium blackout and a light show, Netherlands made a strong start to proceedings.
Robben was particularly lively and – after missing a couple of early chances – broke the deadlock 16 minutes in, coolly converting a penalty after Victor Lindelof calamitously kicked the ball on to his own hand.
Robben was at the centre of things again 10 minutes later, with his shot from distance deflecting into the path of Georginio Wijnaldum, who inexplicably failed to find the next from 10 yards.
Kenny Tete was the next to waste a glorious chance, blasting well over from close range following Nathan Ake’s sublime cross just after the half-hour mark.
But they did get a second in the 40th minute – Robben received Ryan Babel’s cut-back and sent a sensational first-time effort into the far side of the goal from 25 yards.
Netherlands continued to pile the pressure on after the break and, with the physical Bas Dost replacing Vincent Janssen at half-time, they had more of a target man to aim for.
Despite their dominance, the hosts struggled to craft chances before Dost proved effective in his role just before the hour mark, nodding on a lofted pass to Wijnaldum, who shot straight at Olsen from 16 yards.
A rare chance fell to Sweden with 20 minutes to go, but Emil Forsberg shot just over from 25 yards after Daley Blind had gifted possession to Marcus Berg.
After something of a lull, Robben again went close three minutes from time, but Olsen was equal to his effort at the near post and Sweden ultimately did enough to ensure their place in the play-offs.
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