UEFA Nations League: Netherlands earn historic win at Belgium
By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer
If you’re going to wait 25 years to beat your longtime rival, you might as well do it in style.
Not only did the Netherlands defeat European neighbor Belgium for the first time in a quarter-century on Friday, but they also routed them 4-1 in Brussels in both teams’ first match of the 2022-23 UEFA Nations League group stage.
In the 128th all-time meeting between the two teams, the Oranje got the opening goal on a rocket of a shot by Steven Bergwijn shortly before halftime.
Memphis Depay doubled the Dutch advantage about five minutes after the break, and the hosts — who lost star striker Romelu Lukaku to injury shortly before Bergwijn’s opener — couldn’t stop the bleeding thereafter. Belgium allowed a third goal to Denzel Dumfries and another by Depay to make it 4-0 before Michy Batshuayi pulled one back with a stoppage-time consolation tally.
The Netherlands’ victory snapped Belgium’s nine-game unbeaten streak against them. The Dutch hadn't topped the Red Devils since 1997.
Here are three quick thoughts on the most shocking result of the Nations League so far.
A landmark win for the Dutch
Widely considered the best soccer nation never to win the World Cup, the Netherlands are nevertheless proud of their pedigree, which includes three runners-up medals on the biggest stage (the most recent in 2010) and a European title in 1988.
But the Oranje hit a serious down patch after finishing third at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, failing to qualify for both the 2016 Euros and the 2018 World Cup and getting bounced in the quarterfinals in their return to the continental championship last summer.
Nobody doubts their talent; confidence and cohesion seemed to be the underlying issues.
On the other side, powered by a golden generation of players, Belgium emerged over the past decade as a genuine powerhouse; the Belgians had been FIFA’s No. 1-ranked team until Brazil knocked them out of the top spot in April.
As such, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of Friday’s win for the Dutch. And with their first World Cup after an eight-year absence looming at the end of the year, the timing couldn’t be better.
This was the type of result and performance that can generate genuine momentum. If Luis van Gaal’s side makes a deep run this fall in Qatar, we might well look back on Friday’s win as a major step toward the Netherlands reclaiming their status as a truly elite team.
A worrying result for Belgium
For one of the favorites to win the 2022 World Cup, Belgium’s dreadful showing Friday in front of their home fans makes one wonder if they’re even close to capable of hoisting the trophy.
Look, even great teams can have an off day. It’s probably not a coincidence that the hosts didn’t start to concede until after being dealt the psychological blow of seeing Lukaku limp off the field just 27 minutes in, following an innocuous-looking foul by Nathan Aké. And who knows? Had a first-half shot by Timothy Castagne that shook the visitors’ post gone in, perhaps the outcome would’ve been entirely different.
Instead, the ugly and embarrassing loss raises questions. Not least: Is the window starting to close on Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard & Co. before they’ve won anything? It’s too soon to go that far. Still, there is reasonable and understandable cause for concern. There has to be.
It will be fascinating to see how manager Roberto Martinez and his players respond.
This group just got interesting
The good news for Belgium is they will stay at home to face Poland on Wednesday in their next Group A4 match. The Red Devils remain the favorites, but their loss Friday puts real pressure on them to beat Robert Lewandowski and the Poles in a convincing and resounding way. Suddenly, that contest is a must-see.
The Belgians will round out this month’s slate with a tricky visit to Wales next week.
The Netherlands will make the trip to Cardiff before that, then return home to welcome Poland on June 11 and Wales on June 14. Not that their fans are thinking too far ahead following Friday’s triumph.
After 25 years of futility against their neighbors and plenty of recent heartbreak, the Dutch will want to savor this one for as long as possible.
One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.