Netherlands entered the tournament as somewhat of an enigma, being installed as one of the bookmakers’ favorites despite a tough qualifying campaign. The Netherlands finished second in Group 5 behind the Czech Republic, only beating Norway to a playoff spot courtesy of the goal difference tie breaker. Two goals from Patrick Kluivert helped the Dutch to a 2-0 playoff victory to seal qualification against the Republic of Ireland at Anfield.
Kluivert was left on the bench for this game, with Arsenal striker Dennis Bergkamp leading the attack. Ronald De Boer anchored the midfield in a 3-4-3 diamond system, along with Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids. Goalkeeper Edwin van der Saer was one of five Ajax players in the starting lineup for coach Guus Hiddink.
Scotland had a slightly smoother road to the tournament, qualifying as second place in Group 8 behind Russia, but conceding only 3 goals and finishing 5 points clear of third placed Greece. Scott Booth was Scotland’s leading goal scorer in qualifying with 4 goals, and led the attack here, partnered with Gordon Durie in a 4-4-2. John Collins also scored 4 goals in the qualifying rounds, and started in midfield here alongside captain Gary McAllister. Veteran Andy Goram started in goal, with Colin Hendry anchoring the back line.
The game started in high energy fashion, and there was a yellow card as early as the 4th minute when Scottish fullback Tom Boyd was booked for a foul on Dutch winger Gaston Taument.
Netherlands were quick out of the gate, and Scotland came under pressure in the 6th minute when Bergkamp was released down the left flank, cutting the ball back to Seedorf who fired a shot that was saved by Goram. The rebound fell to Taument who’s effort was deflected over the bar. Richard Witschge took the resulting corner to the back post, where De Boer’s header was stopped on the line by Collins.
The 3-4-3 system of the Netherlands saw the midfielders spread out and create space, while also seeing the center backs step forward and join the attack to create overloads with good effect.
Despite their numerical advantage in central midfield thanks to the diamond, Netherlands still showed some defensive frailty, and Collins exposed it when he picked up the ball in the center circle before striding forward and having his shot saved by Van der Sar. The chink in the Dutch defensive armor was exposed again minutes later when Boyd joined the attack and passed to the untracked McAllister, with Van der Sar once again being forced to come up with a save.
The Dutch responded up the other end by winning a shooting range free kick when De Boer was fouled by Collins. Witschge took the free kick off a lengthy run up, but his effort was comfortably saved by Goram.
In the 19th minute, TV graphics showed evidence of the strong start from the Dutch, showing them to have had 73% of the ball during the opening stages. This possession advantage was nearly converted into an opening goal Davids collected a rolled pass from Van der Sar, before dribbling up to the center circle and chipping a pass over the top of the Scottish back four. Bergkamp raced on to the pass and headed the bouncing ball round Goram, but a heavy touch forced him wide and the chance was lost.
Scotland remained a threat on the counter, and won a free kick on the edge of the penalty area when De Boer clipped the ankles of Collins. McAllister whipped a strong effort over the wall but was denied by an excellent fingertip save from Van der Sar.
Collins went from victim to offender when he conceded a wide free kick for a foul on Taument in the 25th minute. Witschge swung a dangerous cross over from the set play, and the ball fell to Johan de Kock who was denied by a last ditch sliding tackle from Kevin Gallacher. Seedorf swung the corner to the back post area, where De Boer headed it back across to Bergkamp who fired a low shot that was blocked by the feet of Goram.
Central midfielder McAllister was very influential for Scotland, and drew a foul from Taument which led to the Dutch winger being booked. The Dutch foul count ticked over again a minute later when De Boer brought down Collins.
The midfield superiority of the Dutch continued, with them having 65% possession as of the 37th minute, even if they had no goal to show for it.
The game entered halftime scoreless, while Holland’s diamond formation allowed for a good amount of superiority in possession, Goram and the Scottish defense came up big on the occasions they were needed. Scotland coach Craig Brown made no midfield adjustments at the interval, but did replace striker Booth with John Spencer.
Chelsea forward Spencer’s presence was felt immediately as he received a pass with his back to goal, and teed up McAllister who blazed his shot off target. Those roles were reversed just a few minutes later when a McAllister through ball released Spencer, but his effort was fired into the crowd behind the goal.
Netherlands produced their first chance of the second half when the ball was sprayed wide to De Boer, who cut inside across the front of two defenders before placing his shot high and wide. De Boer was involved again in the 53rd minute when his lofted pass played Taument in behind the Scottish defense, and the winger’s pinpoint cross found Seedorf who headed the ball into the ground and over the bar.
Center back Hendry stepped into the attack but his errant pass gave possession away, and Netherlands launched a counter by playing in Bergkamp down the right wing. Bergkamp squared the ball to De Boer, but his shot was blocked by the now recovered Hendry.
TV graphics in the 60th minute showed the Dutch to have 56% of the ball and a 6-1 advantage in corners, but the hard working, gritty defensive ethic of Scotland kept the game scoreless going into the last half hour.
Netherland won their 7th corner of the game when Witschge played in Jordi Cruyff down the left, only for the winger to be stifled by a combination of Stewart McKimmie and Colin Calderwood. Before the corner was taken, Hiddink switched up his attack by replacing the lively Taument with teenage Ajax star Kluivert. Kluivert attacked the corner at the back post but the ball was diverted behind for another corner before it reached him. A short corner routine then led to Witschge crossing to Bergkamp, who directed his header over the bar.
Scotland launched an attack on their next possession, when McAllister lifted a pass forward, before Durie was teed up on the edge of the area but dragged his shot wide.
Hiddink continued to shuffle his pack in the 68th minute when he replaced the impressive De Boer with Aron Winter. It was notable that the Dutch substitutions had seen Hiddink bring off two of Netherlands’ stronger performers on the day.
The Dutch produced a dangerous counter attack in the 74th minute, when Witschge robbed McAllister of the ball before sprinting forward and releasing Bergkamp. The ball was squared to Seedorf who pulled the trigger, only to see his shot deflected wide for yet another corner. The corner count was now 9-1 as Netherland continued to press with real intent for an opening goal, however the corner was headed clear as Scotland continued to hold strong.
The pressure continued to come at Scotland in waves, and Cruyff drove forward before being upended by a sliding foul from Hendry on the edge of the area. Seedorf stepped up to take the free kick, but his effort hit the wall and went over the crossbar.
Hiddink continued to chase a winning goal and made his final substitution in the 78th minute when Philip Cocu replaced Witschge in midfield.
Striker Bergkamp forced an 82nd minute corner as the Dutch continued to pour forward, but the Scotland rear guard stood strong once more and headed the danger clear.
Yet another corner was conceded by the Scots when Cruyff was tackled on the byline by Billy McKinlay. Seedorf hung the ball up to the back post where Winter diverted a header past Goram, only to see his effort cleared off the line by Hendry. Seedorf picked up the second ball but his shot was deflected behind to move the corner count to 13-1in favor of Netherlands, only for the gritty Scottish team to clear their lines once more.
Scotland coach Brown made his final substitution with five minutes to play, unsurprisingly adding some fresh legs in defense, when he replaced fullback McKimmie with the fresh legs of Craig Burley.
The chances kept coming for the Dutch, and Davids fed Seedorf in the penalty area, who turned and fired a shot that was deflected over the bar by Collins, with Burley also in close proximity. Cocu took the corner and sent in an outswinger that was turned behind by Scotland. Cocu’s second effort has headed clear by Spencer, allowing the Tartan Army fans to breathe again.
As the game entered injury time, Davids teed up Winter who fired his shot from the edge of the area high and wide. Netherland continued to huff and puff as they desperately pushed for a winner, but another shot was off target followed after Bergkamp teed up Davids.
Time ran out and despite an excellent performance form the Dutch, the points were shared and the Group A standings saw every team level after the first round of games. Having not produced a shot in the final 20 minutes, it was a gritty defensive effort that Scotland could be proud of here.
Netherlands will have been frustrated to not find a win, but also find encouragement in a very strong performance throughout the game. In particular, the Dutch midfield showed itself to be full of quality and likely to cause problems for their next opponent Switzerland. Kluivert showed well in his cameo off the bench, and would be hoping for a start as the Dutch searched for a first win and first goal of the tournament against the Swiss.
Scotland could be proud of their defensive performance, but likely knew they would need to show more teeth in attack in their next game. Coach Brown would need to do little to motivate his players in what was sure to be a fierce battle next up against home nation and bitter rival England.
MAN OF THE MATCH
#6 CM Ronald De Boer (Netherlands) – Full of quality and skill on the ball, De Boer was also a tough defensive presence and key figure in the Dutch engine room.
3: CM Ronald De Boer – Man of the Match
2: CF Dennis Bergkamp – Showed the ability to link play to feet, and also stretch the Scottish backline in behind. Created a number of chances for himself and others as the Dutch tried in vain for the decisive goal.
1: CM Clarence Seedorf – All action performance form the gifted midfielder, carving out a number of chances on goal by timing his runs forward to good effect.
3: CM Gary McAllister – High quality performance from the Scottish captain. Often numbers down due to the Dutch diamond in central midfield, McAllister managed to consistently connect passes and also pop up untracked in attack to good effect.
2: GK Andy Goram – Came up big time and again in a game he faced wave upon wave of pressure. Good shot stopping showcased in addition to commanding his area well against a high volume of set plays.
1: LM John Collins – One of the few attacking outlets for Scotland managed to keep the Dutch honest and worried about the counter. Also came up big defensively, with a first half goal line clearance, and a late shot block in his own area.