Last week, after the Netherlands snatched victory in the 94th minute in Cardiff, Gareth Bale conceded that Wales need to master the dark arts and adopt a streetwise streak if they are to prosper at their first World Cup in 64 years and after Memphis Depay rattled in a stoppage-time winner here, seconds after Bale equalised from the penalty spot, it was an agonising case of deja vu.
Twenty minutes before kick-off the stadium announcer made a point of congratulating Wales on reaching Qatar 2022 and while they generally appear in rude health, this was another galling ending. Bale, a second-half substitute, equalised from the penalty spot as the game rolled into added time but Depay, also a substitute, struck a late winner to render Wales’ comeback worthless. Brennan Johnson’s second nerveless finish in four days had pulled a goal back after the Netherlands raced into a two-goal lead courtesy of Noa Lang and Cody Gakpo.
Louis van Gaal has never been one to mince his words and so his deconstruction of De Kuip on the eve of this game was in keeping with his character. The Netherlands – and former Ajax – manager described Feyenoord’s stadium as “a load of old crap”, a pristine pitch its only redeeming feature and complained about having to do his half-time teamtalk against Poland last Saturday with his back to a dozen of his players.
However, the Netherlands certainly seem to enjoy playing here and they coasted into a two-goal lead inside 23 minutes, Lang smashing in before Gakpo doubled their advantage. The first goal stemmed from Wes Burns, who was withdrawn at the break in favour of Connor Roberts, overcomplicating things inside his own half. Jordan Teze dispossessed the Ipswich wing-back and, after being fed by Vincent Janssen, Lang swivelled clear of Chris Mepham and Joe Rodon before emphatically leathering the ball past Wayne Hennessey.
For the second goal Gakpo profited when his initial shot cannoned off Rodon and then Mepham before curling the rebound into the far corner from just inside the 18-yard box. But Wales, all in yellow, responded on a balmy evening when Daniel James stole the ball high up the pitch from Teze, who was replaced by Stefan de Vrij at half-time.
Harry Wilson slipped a gorgeous ball into Johnson, who took the pass in his stride before nonchalantly stroking a first-time right-foot finish through the legs of the defender Matthijs de Ligt, across the goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen and into the far pocket of the Netherlands net. Johnson, promoted to the starting lineup after his impressive – and similarly composed finish – against Belgium last Saturday, pointed towards the 2,000-plus Wales supporters housed in a segment of the top tier. Suddenly, they were back in a game that looked as good as over when Gakpo fired in.
The PSV Eindhoven forward Gakpo was lively throughout, testing Hennessey early in the second half and almost latching on to a cute Lang pass. Wales’ go-to player was Johnson and the Nottingham Forest forward caused more mischief approaching the hour, his shot well held by Cillessen after an incisive run.
Aaron Ramsey entered with 63 minutes on the clock and Bale with 20 minutes to play. Ramsey almost picked out Johnson with one of his first touches but his clever pass was cut out. Ethan Ampadu skewed wide and Wilson was unfortunate a deflection took the sting out of his strike as Wales grew in confidence.
A sprawling Hennessey denied Gakpo with five minutes to play but Bale slotted in when Roberts was fouled by Tyrell Malacia with a minute to play. Wales thought they had earned a fine point but Depay had other ideas.