The Netherlands disappointed me on and off the pitch on the day they made their World Cup return, but in terms of football at least, they came through in the end.
I woke up on the day of our first match feeling nervous, but those nerves were quickly replaced by anger when I looked at my phone.
Every day, all over the world, LGBTQ people are killed solely because of who they’re attracted to or how they identify, and countless others give up their own freedoms and lives to stand up for the rights of those people.
Bearing that in mind, receiving a yellow card in a game of football is an absolutely minuscule sacrifice, and one that the KNVB would surely be happy to make given they claim to be committed to fighting for equality, right?
Well, in the words of the late great Meat Loaf, they would do anything for #OneLove, but they won’t do that.
The fact that they, along with the other football associations that backed out, won’t is quite frankly pathetic.
FIFA gave them the chance to make the armband more than just an empty gesture – a player receiving a yellow in front of the world for supporting LGBTQ rights in Qatar would be a powerful moment, and damning of the governing body and the regime – but they turned down that chance because they feel the cons of a slight sporting disadvantage outweigh the pros of such a protest.
I don’t have the words to describe just how depressing that is, but needless to say, I didn’t head into our first World Cup match in eight years in particularly high spirits. Still, I had faith that our performance could cheer me up. I was wrong.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it was our worst performance since Van Gaal returned, partly because of his decision to play Matthijs de Ligt over Jurrien Timber but mainly because of how sloppy the players were.
Daley Blind was the only one in the starting XI to have played in a World Cup before and I think that showed. Everyone else looked really nervous and made uncharacteristic errors in possession, making it impossible for us to build any momentum.
That, along with the fact that De Ligt was producing a disasterclass in a position he clearly wasn’t comfortable in, we were being heavily outnumbered and outbattled in midfield, and didn’t have Memphis Depay to create something out of nothing, made for grim viewing indeed.
Don’t get me wrong, Senegal are a good side, better than I was expecting to be honest, but we were still our own worst enemies more than anything.
Ultimately though, all that mattered was that we got a good result, and we ended up getting a great one thanks to the usual suspects. Blind and Memphis linked up nicely on the left as they so often do, setting up Frenkie de Jong who put in a glorious cross which, thanks to an equally glorious run, Cody Gakpo headed in.
Davy Klaassen wrapped up the win with a typical Klaassen goal and that was that. Three points in the bag against presumably the strongest team we’ll have to face in the group stage. Happy days.
I didn’t feel that happy at first given our performance, but Argentina and Germany’s losses since then have put things into perspective. Unlike them, we know that, as long as we improve, we’ll finish top of our group, and with Memphis returning and Van Gaal learning lessons from the Senegal match, there’s reason to believe that we will.
In terms of what I’d like to see against Ecuador, top of my list is Timber coming back in for De Ligt, and I’m certain that will happen.
Asides from that, I think Teun Koopmeiners needs to come into the midfield to add a bit of muscle and ensure Frenkie isn’t overrun again, and I’d like to see Gakpo tried as one of the two strikers given how well he did when moved there on Monday. On paper, with his pace, power and finishing, he’s a good fit.
I’d love nothing more than for Xavi Simons to fill the number 10 spot he leaves empty – with so many other teenagers impressing in Qatar, I’m desperate to see him – but it would be a big shock for him to start ahead of Klaassen and Steven Berghuis.
More than anything, I want us to look as good as we did in the last international break and show the world that we mean business as England, France and Spain have. Oh, and an anti-FIFA gesture such as Germany’s would be lovely too.