With their place at Euro 2020 secured, the Netherlands rounded off their qualification in style, putting five past Estonia to end a memorable year on a high note.
Koeman’s side qualified on Saturday with a solid, yet slightly disappointing, 0-0 draw in Northern Ireland. With nothing to play for, many fans hoped he’d put out a more exciting side in this game. He duly obliged.
Memphis Depay returned to the starting XI, Nathan Ake came in for Virgil van Dijk and Quincy Promes and Patrick van Aaanholt flanked the defence.
In his Liverpool team-mate’s absence, Gini Wijnaldum captained the side for the first time, while Calvin Stengs was handed his first start as fellow AZ man Myron Boadu loomed on the bench. All three would go on to enjoy nights they’ll never forget.
A scintillating start
Oranje were quick out the blocks, taking the lead on the two-minute mark when Gini Wijnaldum, captaining the side for the night, headed in a cross from Promes and then celebrated with a powerful anti-racism message.
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake quickly doubled his nation’s lead just over 10 minutes later. He too scored a header, converting an excellent cross from the returning Memphis Depay to score his second international goal.
The calm before the storm
The Dutch then took their foot off the gas for the rest of the half, keeping possession but not being too adventurous with it. Stengs tried his best to make things happen with most of his risky passes not quite paying off. That would change in the second half.
Koeman opted to give Boadu his debut after half time, bringing him on for the not yet fully fit Memphis Depay. The 18-year-old man impressed immediately with some nice touches.
However, the Netherlands struggled to find another goal, largely due to the poor performance of Luuk de Jong. The Sevilla man was taken off for Wout Weghorst in the 63rd minute and things immediately improved.
A hat-trick hero and dream debuts
Just three minutes later, Wijnaldum scored his second of the evening after Stengs won the ball back and sent him through on goal. It made the Liverpool player Oranje’s top scorer in 2019.
At this point, Estonia well and truly parked the bus, wanting to avoid humiliation. Stengs and Boadu forced saves from the keeper, but no huge chances were created.
That changed with 15 minutes remaining. Stengs picked the ball up just past the halfway line and played a beautiful through ball for his captain, who finished with ease to complete his hat-trick.
It was now party time for the Netherlands. Eyebrows were raised when Kevin Strootman was brought on for Frenkie de Jong but the Marseille man quickly silenced critics.
With four minutes to go, he lofted a stunning ball over the Estonia defence and into the path of Boadu. The AZ man (boy) coolly slotted the ball between the keeper’s legs to score what will surely be the first of many Oranje goals.
Estonia almost got a consolation goal at the death but Cillessen made a smart save down to his left to ensure that the game ended 5-0.
Germany beat Northern Ireland 6-1 to top the group, which isn’t such a mad thing for Koeman and co at all. As host nations can’t draw each other and Russia can’t play Ukraine for political reasons, the latter is guaranteed to be Oranje’s Pot 1 opponents in the Euro 2020 draw.
It’s been an excellent year for the Netherlands, and they couldn’t have ended it better if they tried. A 5-0 win, a Wijnaldum hat-trick, two assists from Stengs and a goal from Boadu in front of a sell-out crowd
In just over half a year, they will kick off their Euro 2020 campaign at the very same place, the Johan Cruijff Arena. If their experienced heads stay fit and their youngsters keep improving, well, roll on June.